Published on Australian Maritime Safety Authority (

Pollution from fishing vessels

You have a responsibility not to pollute the sea, and to be aware of the laws about oil and garbage pollution from vessels, including fishing vessels.

The law

Laws about oil and garbage pollution from vessels, including fishing vessels, are in place to minimise and prevent pollution. You have a key responsibility not to pollute the sea, which provides your livelihood.

Pollution of the marine environment by ships, including fishing vessels, is strictly controlled by the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships (known as MARPOL).

To minimise pollution, MARPOL prohibits ships from discharging garbage into the sea except in very limited circumstances.

Australia is a signatory to MARPOL which is now enforced in over 150 countries.

We apply the convention in Australian waters through Commonwealth, state and territory legislation. The main Commonwealth legislation is the Protection of the Sea (Prevention of Pollution from Ships) Act 1983.

Australian MARPOL regulations apply to Australian fishing vessels wherever they are operating.

Australian laws can also be applied against foreign fishing vessels operating within Australia's 200 nautical mile exclusive economic zone.

Penalties are up to A$17 million if you are a shipowner and A$3.4 million if you are the Master of a fishing vessel discharging in contravention of the MARPOL regulations.

Map of limitations on operational discharges in accordance with MARPOL

Oil pollution

The discharge of oil and oily mixtures into the sea is prohibited, except in very limited circumstances.

Discharge of oily mixtures is allowed while in transit, provided the fishing vessel has in operation oil filtering or separating equipment that ensures the oil content is less than 15 parts of oil to one million parts of water (15ppm).

All fishing vessels over 400 gross tonnage are required to be fitted with this type of equipment, which must meet IMO standards.

Fishing vessels under 400 gross tonnage must comply with the discharge restrictions, but are exempt from any specific ship-board equipment requirements.

In most cases this means that oily mixtures must be stored onboard for disposal at port waste reception facilities. This includes diesel, hydraulic fluids and bilge water with any concentration of oil.

To reduce a potential oil discharge:

Garbage pollution

Discharge of garbage into the sea is prohibited.

Garbage means all kinds of food wastes, domestic wastes and operational wastes including:

Fishing vessels can generate many additional types of waste which must not be discharged into the sea, including:

Food wastes

If they are not contaminated by any other garbage types, food wastes may be discharged into the sea while the fishing vessel is in transit, if the waste is discharged:

Fresh fish waste, including shellfish, produced during fishing or aquaculture activities are not considered as garbage and may be discharged directly into the sea.

In addition, small quantities of food may be released directly into the sea for the specific purpose of feeding fish in connection with fishing or tourist operations.

However, the Master of the fishing vessel should consider the local laws as permission may be required.

If garbage is mixed with, or contaminated by, harmful substances that are prohibited from discharge or that have stricter discharge requirements, then those stricter requirements also apply to the garbage.

Accidental loss or discharge of fishing gear

Your lost fishing gear may harm the marine environment or create a navigational hazard.

Many marine animals (including target fish species) die as a result of becoming entangled in, or ingesting:

Plastics which shatter into smaller fragments can be mistaken for food or ingested accidentally.

Garbage such as rope and plastic material can also get caught in propeller shafts or block water intakes, causing major damage and expensive repairs and posing a risk to the safety of vessels.

If practicable, fishing gear should have degradable panels of natural material to reduce the entanglement of marine life.

The law states that fishing vessels must make every effort to retrieve all lost or damaged fishing gear.

Fishing vessel operators are also required to record the discharge or loss of fishing gear in the garbage record book or ships log.

Plan to reduce and store your garbage

The best way to avoid the discharge of garbage, and the possibility of fines, is to reduce the amount of potential garbage taken onboard and the amount of garbage generated through the use of packaged items.

Where possible, consider how much waste a product will generate when buying products.

Bulk packaging, reusable and recyclable packaging and avoiding plastic packaging, unless it is reusable or recyclable, are all ways to reduce the amount of waste generated.

Recyclable plastic packaging should only be used where the vessel has the ability to store it for later disposal ashore. Industry is assisting fishermen to reduce waste by designing packaging free of plastic strapping and lining—like bait cartons—making a significant step towards onboard garbage management.

If fishing vessels are unable to incinerate their rubbish, they will need sufficient storage space and equipment—incliuding cans, drums, bags or other containers—to retain all plastics for disposal ashore.

Suppliers have a valuable role to play

Suppliers are encouraged to move towards environmentally sustainable practices and to undertake research and technology development that minimises potential garbage.

Consider supplies in terms of the garbage they will generate. Avoid the use of plastic packaging.

Recyclable materials and biodegradable products can be used to replace plastic products.

The use of bait cartons that are free of plastic strapping and lining is becoming more widespread, and some Australian jurisdictions have banned the use of plastic strapping. Plastic-free bait cartons manufactured in Australia are cheaper and easier to use.

Garbage waste management onboard

All fishing vessels of 12 metres or more in length must display placards notifying crew and passengers of the garbage discharge requirements for that vessel under MARPOL.

Every fishing vessel of 100 gross tonnage and above, and every fishing vessel certified to carry 15 or more persons, must also carry a garbage management plan.

The garbage management plan contains procedures for collecting, storing, processing and disposing of garbage, including the use of appropriate garbage handling equipment such as storage containers, compactors or incinerators. View our garbage management plan example.

Every fishing vessel of 400 gross tonnage and above, and every fishing vessel certified to carry 15 or more persons engaged in international voyages, are also required to have a garbage record book (record book) in the form specified in the appendix to Annex V of MARPOL.

The record book and  receipts able to be obtained from using a waste reception facility in port must be kept for two years and be available for inspection by authorities.

Record books and garbage placards can be obtained from our offices around Australia.

Shore facilities

Let the marina owner or port authority know if shore facilities are not adequate for the disposal of oil or garbage.

State, Territory, and local officials should also be notified. The facilities are more likely to be upgraded if enough of you express concern.

Operating in the Great Barrier Reef

The IMO has designated the Great Barrier Reef and the Torres Strait as a particularly sensitive sea area.

MARPOL allows some types of waste to be discharged directly into the sea at specific distances from the nearest land. The nearest land boundary of the north eastern coast of Australia extends around the outer edge of the Great Barrier Reef and the Torres Strait.

Discharges permitted under MARPOL must be measured seaward of this boundary.

This means that it is prohibited to discharge garbage and food waste within the Great Barrier Reef and the Torres Strait, with the exception of fresh fish waste, including shellfish and small quantities of food used as burley to attract fish for the purpose of fishing or tourist operations.

Fresh fish waste, including shellfish, produced during fishing activities is not considered as garbage and may be discharged into the sea.

Reporting pollution

Under Australian law, pollution or potential pollution incidents must be reported to the authorities.

For fishing vessels of 400 gross tonnage and above, the reporting requirements for oil pollution will be set out in the vessel’s mandatory shipboard oil pollution emergency plan.

When the loss or discharge of fishing gear, such as ghost nets, long lines, fish traps or any man-made contraptions designed to catch fish poses a significant threat to the marine environment and navigation, the fishing vessel operator is required to report the approximate position and reasons for the loss to the nearest port authority or the Australian Rescue Centre in Canberra.

This allows the notification of other vessels to look out for and retrieve the fishing gear.

These losses must be recorded in the garbage record book if you are required to have one.

Last updated: 13 August 2020