Australia’s territorial sea extends from the coast out to 12 nautical miles. Within the territorial sea, Australia has full sovereignty—including with respect to fisheries—subject only to the rights of foreign ships to ‘innocent passage’ through the territorial sea.
On 1 August 1994, Australia declared an Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) extending from 12 nautical miles to 200 nautical miles from its coastline. Within its EEZ, Australia has sovereign rights to explore and exploit, conserve and manage the natural resources—both living (such as fisheries and genetic material) and non-living (such as oil, gas, minerals). It also has jurisdiction over offshore installations, marine scientific research and the protection and preservation of the marine environment.
Consistent with international law, Australia has also claimed sovereign rights to explore and exploit the natural resources of the continental shelf (including sedentary species) where the shelf extends beyond 200 nautical miles.
As a matter of Australian domestic law, the Offshore Constitutional Settlement provides for the Australian states and the Northern Territory to manage fisheries out to 3 nautical miles from the coast, and for the Australian Government to manage fisheries from three to 200 nautical miles. However, these default arrangements are frequently varied through instruments known as offshore constitutional settlement arrangements.
The Australian Fishing Zone (AFZ), which was first declared in 1979, covers Commonwealth waters—generally those from three nautical miles to 200 nautical miles from the Australian coast. The AFZ is established through the Fisheries Management Act 1991 and relates only to the use or protection of Commonwealth fisheries. The AFZ covers an area of over 8 million square kilometres.
Geoscience Australia has further information about the Australian maritime zones.
Australian Fishing Zone showing the location of Commonwealth fisheries
Map Courtesy of the Australian Fisheries Management Authority, 2008