Published: 19 February 2023 Updated: 21 February 2023

Supporting our findings

So, what’s recreational fishing worth to the Australian economy?

The 2000 National Recreational Fishing Survey provided the first detailed assessment of the contribution of Australia’s recreational fishing sector to the national economy. The study used a type of economic valuation in which the value of the fishing sector was based on a current snapshot of how much fishers spent on fishing-related activities (direct value). In the year of the survey (May 2000 to April 2001), it was estimated that recreational fishers in Australia spent $1.86 billion on fishing (Henry and Lyle 2003). This is equivalent to $2.87 billion in 2019 prices. In addition to the 2000 national survey, there have also been several surveys examining recreational fishing across individual states of Australia (e.g. Ryan et al. 2013; Taylor et al. 2013; West et al. 2013; West et al. 2015).

In the 2019-2020 National Recreational Fishing Survey, we are again asking recreational fishers about their expenditure so we can provide an updated estimate of the national value of recreational fishing. However, it takes a big investment to repeat this exercise, as getting an accurate estimate requires surveying a lot of recreational fishers and asking them to give detailed information on their expenditure on recreational fishing — something not everyone is willing to do.

Estimation of direct expenditure is a common approach to estimating the contribution of a particular activity, like recreational fishing, to the national economy. However, the direct expenditure also stimulates flow-on economic impacts throughout the economy (indirect value). Indirect flow-on values arise from the expenditure retail and service sectors undertake in order to deliver fishing-related products or services. Thus, flow-on effects have a stimulation effect across other sectors of the economy, such as the manufacturing sector. There are also flow-on economic benefits generated when employees working across both the directly and indirectly impacted sectors spend their wages on goods and services. Accounting for both direct and indirect value can be critical for understanding the full value of recreational fishing to the economy (Poudel et al. 2018).

Does measuring expenditure measure the true value of fishing?

The short answer is that, while expenditure is one useful measure of value, by itself it doesn’t capture to full value of recreational fishing.

In economics, questions of value are central to making good public policy or investment decisions. We need to understand the full value of things to make good decisions about where investments can generate the greatest value. Economics aims to identify the value to society as a whole (rather than just to private individuals or individual sectors), particularly when evaluating how best to manage publicly owned resources.

Expenditure can be a reasonable indicator of value in competitive markets, such as the car market, but when it comes to valuing the environment or nature-based leisure activities such as recreational fishing it gets more complicated. Many people who go fishing locally may spend very little on recreational fishing — but it is a very valuable activity to them, and that value isn’t captured properly by just measuring their expenditure on fishing. This is because recreational fishing has significant ‘non-market’ values.

Economics recognises the value held for things even if they are never traded in markets, and this can include non-use values. So just the existence of wild fish or the possibility of recreational fishing is recognised in economics as holding value to people.

It is important to have information about non-market values because they are significant and ignoring them will mean it would not be possible to evaluate how best to share public resources across competing end-uses such as conservation-based marine tourism, commercial fishing and recreational fishing.

Because of this, the 2020 National Recreational Fishing Survey is also examining non-market values of recreational fishing.

What can study of non-market values of recreational fishing tell us?

Studies of market and non-market values can tell us many things – the examples below are drawn from three Australian studies published in the last two decades.
Prayaga et al. (2010) applied the travel-cost method to value the recreational fishing in the Capricorn coast area of the Great Barrier Reef. They estimated the net economic value of recreational fishing in this area to be $5.53 million per year.

Rolfe and Prayaga (2007) applied the travel-cost method to estimate the value for recreational fishing in major freshwater irrigation dams in Queensland. Across the three dams, they estimated the total economic value of $4.7 million per year. The study was motivated by the poor understanding of the value of recreational fishing in the dams in comparison to other use values of the dams, such as agricultural irrigation. Understanding recreational fishing values was considered important to help guide public investment in fish stocking programs and to understand the tradeoffs across alternative management options of the dams.

Pascoe et al (2014) applied the travel-cost method in response to concerns about the potential negative impact of the expansion of the Moreton Bay Marine Park in Queensland on recreational fishing values in the area. It was also argued that removal of commercial trawl fishing effort due to expansion of the marine park could also offer potential benefits for recreational fishers through significant recovery of finfish populations. They estimated the total value of recreational fishing in Moreton Bay fishery under the expanded Marine Park to be around $20m a year, which represented an increase in the value of recreational fishing by between $1.3m to $2.5m a year. The increased value was based on an assumed increase in recreational fishing catch rates of between 50 and 100 percent.




How can you measure the non-market values of recreational fishing?

So, in an economic analysis of the value of recreational fishing, what should be included?

The answer is everything – all market and non-market benefits, use and non-use values!

Understanding the value of recreational fishing holistically will provide insights into the tradeoffs involved in making policy decisions and the value-for-money from alternative options for management of fish stocks and the aquatic environment more generally. Everything that is considered of value to people who participate and even to those who don’t participate should be included. This includes benefits to local and regional economies, environmental benefits from recreational fishers reducing pest species, the social wellbeing and human health benefits to those who participate and the benefits this generates more broadly across society.

In practice it is challenging to account for all use and non-use values for recreational fishing, however, there are several economic methods that can be applied to help evaluate the non-market values. These include revealed preference methods where non-market values are estimated based on observed behaviour of fishers (e.g. their travel and expenditure) and stated preference methods where non-market values are estimated based on fisher responses to surveys that present hypothetical but realistic scenarios. Some of the most commonly applied approaches include:


  • Travel cost (revealed preference approach): The travel-cost method is one of the most commonly applied non-market evaluation methods to value outdoor nature-based recreation, including recreational fishing. It values an activity based on how frequently people visit an area (in this case, for the main purpose of recreational fishing) and how much this cost them (including the travel costs, accommodation, food, fuel, bait, and ice). It is essentially assumed that the costs incurred represent the “price” paid or the willingness to pay for recreational fishing.
  • Contingent valuation and contingent behaviour (stated preference approaches): This is another method commonly applied to estimate the value of recreational fishing. It is a survey-based approach that presents a respondent with hypothetical fishing experience and asks how much they are willing to pay for the experience or an improved fishing experience. Contingent behaviour modelling explores how recreational fishing values change across different conditions. For example, Prayaga et al. (2010) used the method to explore whether values were affected by catch rates, water quality and social crowding.
  • Choice Modelling (stated preference approach): This method uses a survey-based approach to present realistic hypothetical choices respondents are asked to choose between. The choices will also often have different costs associated with them which provides scope to estimate non-market values or ‘willingness to pay’ for different attributes of a fishing trip or experience. For example, Bonnichsen et al. (2019) applied choice modelling to investigate how recreational fishing values of German tourists in Demark varied across five different attributes: chance of catching a fish, nature experience, water quality, distance to accommodation, and number of other anglers at the site.

Is the value of recreational fishing in the experience or in the catch?

One of the key questions when valuing recreational fishing is understanding what it is about fishing that provides value. Some studies assume that when you catch more fish, there will be higher value (e.g. Pascoe et al 2014). However, when Prayaga et al. (2010) used a method called contingent behaviour modelling to explore whether values for recreational fishing changed across different conditions, including catch rates (chance of catching more red emperor fish), water quality (algal blooms) and social crowding (number of other people fishing in the area), they found recreational fishing values were fairly insensitive to changes in these kinds of conditions. Rolfe and Prayaga (2007) also found that under existing stocking and catch conditions in freshwater dams in Queensland, the value of increased stocking to improve catch rates was unlikely to deliver significant additional benefits. In other words — the value of fishing was about much more than just how much you caught: it was about how good the fishing experience was in a range of ways (for example, the challenge experienced, the fun of being with friends, the experience of being out in nature).

Therefore, in the 2019-2020 survey we need to make sure our non-market valuation considers catch, but also all the other things that give recreational fishing value.


Bonnichsen, O, Jensen, C.L, and Olsen, S.B, ‘Fishing for more tourists — An empirical investigation of tourist anglers’ preferences for angling site quality, Marine Policy, 106: 103532.

Henry, G.W and Lyle, J.M (2003), The National Recreational and Indigenous Fishing Survey, Australian Government Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, Canberra.

Pascoe, S, A. Doshi, Q. Dell, M. Tonks and R. Kenyon (2014). ‘Economic value of recreational fishing in Moreton Bay and the potential impact of the marine park rezoning’, Tourism Management, 41 (2): 53-63
Poudel, J, Ian A. Munn, I.A, and Henderson, J.E, (2018), ‘An input-output analysis of recreational fishing expenditures (2006 & 2011) across the southern United States’, International Journal of Environmental Studies, 75 (4): 650-672.

Prayaga, P., J. Rolfe and N. Stoeckl (2010). ‘The value of recreational fishing in the Great Barrier Reef, Australia: A pooled revealed preference and contingent behaviour model’. Marine Policy 34(2): 244-251.
Rolfe, J. and Prayaga, P. (2007). Estimating values for recreational fishing at freshwater dams in Queensland. Australian Journal of Agricultural and Resource Economics, 51(2): 157-174.

Ryan, K.L, Wise, B.S, Hall, N.G, Pollock, K.H, Sulin, E.H, and Gaughan, D.J (2013). ‘An integrated system to survey boat-based recreational fishing in Western Australia 2011/12’. Fisheries Research Report No. 249, Department of Fisheries, Western Australia.

Taylor, S, Webley J, McInnes, K, (2013), 2010 Statewide Recreational Fishing Survey, Queensland Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry.

West, L.D, Lyle, J.M, Matthews, S.R, Stark, K.E, Steffe, A.S, (2013), ‘Survey of Recreational Fishing in the Northern Territory 2009-2010’, Fishery Report No.109. Northern Territory Government, Australia.

West, L.D, Stark, K.E, Murphy, J.J, Lyle, J.M, Ochwada-Doyle, F.A, (2015), ‘Survey of recreational fishing in New South Wales and the ACT 2013/14’, Fisheries Final Report Series, No.149.

The study is funded by the Australian government and the Fisheries Research and Development Corporation.