Coastal, Marine & Fisheries Management - EDO NSW

Coastal, Marine & Fisheries Management

Coastal areas are areas of land next to the sea and the region adjoining them

View current opportunities to have your say about coastal, marine and fisheries management now

There is no specific definition of a coastal area and each community will be different. However, in planning law the area adjoining the sea is called the coastal zone. The coastal zone includes coastal waters which generally extend up to three nautical miles from the NSW coastline. Waters outside this are classified as Commonwealth Marine Areas. Coastal protection is closely related to planning and development. For more information about planning law, see our Fact Sheet on LEPs and SEPPs.

The Coastal Protection Act 1979 (NSW) contains provisions that place additional checks on local councils when determining development applications in the coastal zone, and provides mechanisms for restraining or remedying damage to the coast.

There are several opportunities for the public to have a say about coastal protection, including:

Marine environments are specifically protected under several different frameworks:

  • Protected areas                                              

Australia’s marine environment is divided into a number of administrative zones. The two main zones of management are:

  • The three-mile State waters zone, which extends from the shoreline to approximately three nautical miles offshore.
  • The 200-mile zone, which extends from the end of the three-mile State waters zone, to 200 nautical miles offshore. This is also known as the Economic Exclusion Zone (EEZ).

The Australian Government has sole responsibility for the 200-mile zone. The NSW government has primary responsibility for the three-mile State waters zone in NSW. Read more about zones in the jurisdictions section of the Marine Environment chapter in the Australian Government’s State of the Environment Report 2011.

In NSW, the protection of marine species is dealt with outside the general threatened species laws. Species of saltwater and freshwater fish are protected both at the national and State and level. There are opportunities to engage in decision-making that affects how fish can be taken from both marine and freshwater environments.

Responding to government proposals

The national, State and local governments regularly invite input from the community on proposed changes to environmental laws. 

  • Contact your local council to comment during the preparation of a Coastal Zone Management Plan. The purpose of a Coastal Zone Management Plan is to put in place a structured plan for the protection of the beach or foreshore. The plan sets out actions that can be taken to avoid or mitigate damage that can occur to the coast during storm events that may lead to severe erosion or beach damage. For more information about coastal protection, see our Fact Sheet on coastal protection.
  • Contact your local council to see if you can speak at a council meeting. If you have made a submission on a proposed development, you may have a chance to have your say at the council meeting where the development is being considered. For more information about speaking at a council meeting, see How can I have my say?.
  • Contact your local council to comment on draft Local Environmental Plans (LEPs) – these will usually be advertised on their website. There is also a LEP tracking system on the NSW Department of Planning and Environment website where you can track the progress of the LEP-making process. For more information about LEPs, see our Fact Sheet.
  • To comment on proposals to prepare management plans for Commonwealth reserves, visit the Commonwealth Marine Reserves website. Management plans for marine reserves are an important tool for protecting marine areas. Draft management plans are opened for public consultation before they are finalised, and the public can submit comments to the Australian Environment Department.
  • To have your say about how environmental and conservation considerations are balanced against commercial and recreational interests, comment on processes and studies on the NSW Marine Parks website. Marine Parks are declared areas of State waters which are set aside to conserve biodiversity and maintain ecological processes.
  • To comment on applications to vary environment protection licences, visit the EPA website. You can also comment on existing licences at any time. Licences are required to be reviewed by the EPA or other responsible authority at least every five years. You can write to the EPA and request a statement of reasons explaining why the EPA granted or refused an environment protection licence application. This includes applications for transfers or variations.

Responding to applications

Comments from the community are also invited on things like development applications and environment protection licences, which have the potential to impact on the environment.

  • Visit your local council’s website to comment on development applications that are notified in your local area – they are often notified in a local newspaper and on the council’s website. Note that public comment is not invited for all developments assessed by the local council, and some types of development do not require public notification or involvement. For more information about LEPs, see our Fact Sheet on LEPs and SEPPs.
  • To comment on applications for environment protection licences, visit the EPA website. Many types of development require environment protection licences. The EPA must consider the public’s comments in deciding whether to grant a licence. This includes any public submissions made under the development assessment process.

Notifications about opportunities to comment on proposals are often required to be published. The NSW Government is required to publish notices for some proposals in a locally circulating newspaper, and sometimes a newspaper that circulates throughout NSW (often The Land). You can keep an eye on the papers to make sure that you don’t miss an opportunity to comment. For more information about notification of proposals, see our Fact Sheet on DAs and consents.

Monitoring and enforcement

Both governments and proponents have responsibility for monitoring the impacts of building and development on the environment and heritage. You can also monitor the impacts of building and development on the environment, such as water and air quality.

Before reporting suspected breaches of environmental laws you will require evidence. It is also important to remember that the law contains certain exceptions and defences to offences. The most common defence is that a person has a permit or licence to take the action which would otherwise be an offence, such as an environment protection licence (a licence to pollute). If you are unsure about whether an action is an offence or not, call the Environment Line on 131 555.

National and State enforcement authorities can issue stop work notices in many cases where unauthorised activities are occurring that harm the environment and heritage.

    • Taking an action that is likely to have a significant impact on a nationally listed migratory species.
    • Taking an action that is likely to have a significant impact on a place that is listed on the World, Commonwealth, or National heritage lists.
  • Report a suspected breach of NSW environmental law, contact the Environment Line on 131 555. Examples of illegal activity include:
    • Carrying out work to protect property affected by coastal erosion, unless the work is authorised.
    • Damaging protected areas or damaging or removing things within protected areas without consent. See our Fact Sheet for more information about protected areas in NSW.
    • Harming native animals, including game birds. Picking or harming native plants may also be an offence. See our Fact Sheet for more information about how native plants and animals are protected in NSW.
    • Carrying out building or development work without the required approval.
    • Carrying out building or development work without the required approval.
    • Damaging fish habitats, such as saltmarsh, mangroves, and marine vegetation.
    • Illegally taking certain species, such as abalone and rock lobster.
    • Taking or possessing fish that are too small or too large.
    • Taking or possessing more than the permitted number or volume.
    • Possessing unlawful fishing gear, such as spear guns in prohibited areas.
    • Fishing or diving in grey nurse shark critical habitat.
    • Fishing without the required recreational or commercial fishing licence.
    • Killing or injuring a native species in a Commonwealth reserve without authorisation.
    • Taking an action that will have a significant impact on a nationally listed migratory species.
  • Report harm of a State protected species to the Environment Line 131 555. Examples of illegal activity include:
    • Damaging critical habitat. The Office of Environment and Heritage is responsible for the listing of critical habitat. There are currently 4 critical habitats on the NSW list.
  • Report land-based pollution to the Environment Line 131 555.
  • Report sea-based pollution to NSW Maritime, including for one of the following offences in NSW coastal waters (up to three nautical miles from the shore):
    • Discharging of oil or oily mixtures, garbage and sewage from ships.
    • Illegal dumping.
    • Discharging oil or oily mixtures, noxious or harmful substances, untreated sewage, or garbage into the sea.
    • Dumping of waste without a permit.

Under certain environmental laws, any person has the right to bring proceedings in a Court to remedy or restrain a breach. For breaches of national environmental law, this is the Federal Court. In NSW, it is mainly to the Land and Environment Court. See How can I have my say? for more information. You should contact the EDO NSW Environmental Law Line to request some initial legal advice if you would like to take this step.

Shaping environmental laws

Many environmental laws merely set out the framework for protecting the environment and rely on community involvement for proper protection. You can proactively seek to improve environmental laws through these processes.

  • Contact your local council to speak to them about joining a committee. Many councils have community advisory and consultative committees which may act as a liaison between the council and the community, or advise the council on matters such as the environment, heritage, and building and development.
  • Local councils are eligible for Coastal, estuary and floodplain management grants from the NSW government to assist local councils to manage risks such as coastal erosion, and to restore coastal habitats. For more information on how your council can apply, visit the NSW Office of Environment and Heritage website.
  • Join the NSW Boards and Committees register, which is a list of people interested in serving on NSW Government boards and committees, such as reserve trusts for the protection of certain areas of environmental and heritage significance.


The national, and State and local governments provide continuing opportunities to be involved in the laws designed to protect the environment.