Recreational fishing is an important leisure activity that brings economic and social benefits to the Australian community. Australia’s recreational sector is the largest and most widely dispersed recreational activity that uses a natural resource.

Strategies to manage fishing include quotas, bag limits and no-take zones in marine reserves. Given the prohibitive cost of deploying compliance officers to monitor Australia’s vast marine estate, strategies are needed to encourage fishers to comply with zones of their own accord.

This Marine and Coastal Hub project conducted surveys and focus groups to understand recreational fisher attitudes to zoning and sustainable fishing practices. Working with the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (GBRMPA), the new knowledge was applied to develop and test approaches to preparing and delivering management information.

The research and pilot awareness campaign demonstrated the value of personalising the fishing experience and appealing to fishers’ genuine good intentions. This achieved more effective engagement than previous awareness campaigns for mass audiences. The project findings underpin recommendations to help management agencies build relationships with recreational fishers and encourage self-compliance with zoning for marine conservation.

Approach and findings

Understanding fisher behaviour

The research focussed on recreational fishers active in GBRMPA waters, and in Geographe Marine Park and Two Rocks Marine Park off Western Australia. More than 800 online surveys were distributed to fishers, followed by focus groups and data analysis. These aimed to better understand how factors such as demographics, fishing patterns, and motivations related to individual or group intentions to comply with no-take zones.

A concept common to consumer research – the Net Promoter Score (NPS) – was used to describe individual behaviours, and predict intentions towards sustainable fishing practices. The NPS process grouped survey respondents into ‘Promoters’ of sustainable fishing, ‘Passives’ (neutral) and ‘Detractors’. Subsequent recommendations for tailored compliance campaigns were piloted by GBRMPA in social media campaigns (May/June 2023).

Enhancing positive attitudes

The GBRMPA pilot awareness campaigns aimed to build relationships with fishers that reinforced or enhanced positive attitudes to compliance by:

  • emphasising the positive role no-take zones play in securing fishing stocks and a sustainable fishing lifestyle (‘fish for their future’, ‘love the reef’); and
  • providing information, apps and maps they need to locate and avoid no-take zones (‘fish the right zone’).

The campaigns targetted males and females aged 18–54 in Queensland locations who were interested in fishing, boating etc. They departed from previous GBRMPA campaigns promoting general awareness of zoning and fines, largely to a male audience. Connecting with ‘Detractors’ was not an objective of the GBRMPA pilot campaign.

Improved efficiency and engagement

The pilot campaigns resonated broadly with recreational fishers. Facebook and YouTube proved to be relevant platforms, and the inclusion of female fishers extended the campaign’s reach. Key findings were:

  • overwhelmingly positive comments/feedback to Facebook ads, with user responses tagging others, positively amplifying the message;
  • Facebook click throughs to GBRMPA resources exceeded past campaign;
  • excellent retention rates on GBRMPA resources page (up to 90% for the best performing family-tailored post); and
  • five-fold improvement in the cost efficiency of reaching GBRMPA’s target audience, compared with past campaigns.

Hi-vis compliance

Compliance is driven by actual consequences, such as fines, and by the fishers’ perceived risk of being caught. Project participants perceived a low risk of being caught. They were interested in seeing a greater presence of compliance officers, with opportunities to interact with officers on the water and at land-based events.

The project team recommends that compliance officers wearing recognisable uniforms attend popular fishing spots and community events to build relationships. Additionally, their stories should be featured in traditional and online media.


Marine park managers and their recreational fishing and boating stakeholders have a foundation for improving the design, implementation and evaluation of behavioural interventions to improve regulatory compliance as part of a considered, longer-term approach to voluntary compliance with marine reserve regulations. Tailored case studies provide a pathway for advancing novel behavioural change interventions.

Project location

Great Barrier Reef, Two Rocks, Geographe Australian Marine Parks