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Fishing puts the GREAT in Barrier Reef…and how to keep it that way.

Wednesday, 23 November 2022

I never hesitate to visit the Great Barrier Reef. It is the world’s largest Coral reef and one of the seven natural wonders of the world…and it’s built by living organisms! It’s significance is such that its size and colours can be seen from outer space. 

Not surprisingly the fishing is AMAZING, and hence wetting a line is one of the most popular activities across this massive system.

Reef fish abound and can be caught on basic handlines right up to the latest high tech Micro Jigging. Prized pelagic Fish like Spanish Mackerel, Giant Trevally and others abound. And if mega size is important - there’s more giant Marlin over 1000 pounds tagged and released on the Great Barrier Reef than the rest of the world combined!

Quality charter boats operate along the reef from Bundaberg in the South to Cape York in the North. They will catch you quality fish and then some. Popular ports with a variety of charter boats to choose from include Agnes Waters, Whitsundays, Cardwell, Townsville, Cairns and Port Douglas, with plenty more brilliant spots in between.

Locals or visitors bringing up a boat also have a great time fishing the reef. 

Having visited the reef since the age of 5 I can say one thing though – we used to not travel as far to catch fish. Slow boats and handlines is all you needed. These days fast boats, high tech sounders/tackle, and the ability to check weather better have made it easier to fish further and even more effectively. This means we need to be more aware of how to look after the reef.

With an increasing population and the other stresses the reef faces us anglers need to keep learning and refining what is sustainable so we can keep the reef great. Most importantly this means sticking to all the rules. Advances in fishing rules and management are in many cases resulting in better fishing for some fish than in living memory…that’s pretty cool!

You see the rules are not just made up by a junior public servant – experienced anglers, commercial fisherman, scientists with a lifelong passion for the reef and stakeholders, all who know their stuff, take great care in getting together and setting size and bag limits that allow fish to breed and maintain a biomass that won’t collapse. It’s tricky job, but they do it really well. You only have to fish other large reefs in some parts of the world to see what lesser management does.

Fisheries rules are straight forward to abide by – you can get the Queensland Fishing Rule booklet at any tackle shop or online. Before you head out look at the type of fish you are targeting and the rules around them. And re check rules regularly – they change to reflect the dynamic state of fish stocks and the latest research. And don’t forget if you catch something you can’t identify use my rule “If in doubt – let it back out”.  

There’s also a “little something” known as the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park.  It’s one of the largest Marine Parks in the world and it was created to help protect and nurture the reef for generations to come. 

One of the most important things for anglers to consider in this Marine Park is the zoning.  Some zones are off limits to fishing – this allows fish to grow large and breed super successfully. The fertilized eggs disperse and re populate other parts of the reef that need it. Importantly these no fishing zones also protect biodiversity. 

Knowing how to avoid these areas and all the other rules of the marine park can be a little daunting at first. Thankfully technology and a wave of brilliant young minds have helped – enter the Free Eye on the Reef App. 

The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (GBRMPA) who are responsible for management of the park and enforce the zoning helped develop the App.

This app has been around a couple of years and it’s BRILLIANT!  It shows you where you are on the map, highlighting the zones and the rules that apply to each zone and you don’t even need a mobile signal. I urge you to download the latest version from the App Store or Google Play and familiarize yourself with it before you hit the water – it will help you plan your trip and is dead set easy to use!

You can also use your chart plotter to access zoning information, just make sure your chart plotter has the latest maps uploaded. I use the Eye on the Reef App on my phone to cross check with my chart plotter where and how we can fish. You need both because the app is not for navigation, it’s the chart plotter that helps you navigate (along with other tools and experience you need to stay safe).

Look at both the app and your chart plotter before your trip when checking the weather, or grab a printed Marine Park Map if you’re old school - just like my dad does. Our family has always found that a little bit of time planning on land means you can spend more time having fun on the water.

As anglers we can all make a huge difference in preserving the quality of Fishing and Marine Life on the Great Barrier Reef. So always have the latest copy of Queensland Fisheries Rules and if you’re planning a trip north of Bundaberg remember that Great Barrier Reef Marine Park zoning rules apply, so download the app and make sure you know how to use it and follow the rules before heading out on the water. 

The fishing on the Great Barrier Reef is brilliant and knowing you are doing the right thing and avoiding the penalties will make your day even more rewarding.

Learn more at

See you on the water.

Rob Paxevanos
Host Fishing Australia TV Series

Footnote : You can see Fishing Australias Special on the Great Barrier Reef and how to look after it at Watch Fishing Australia 2022, Catch Up TV ( OR at


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