Access rights and privileges in NSW
This page contains information on laws and regulations but is not legal advice
Fishing access to the sea, rivers and creeks
At common law, the public has a right to fish in the sea, the arms of the sea and in the tidal reaches of all rivers and estuaries.
The public has no common law right to fish in non-tidal waters—the right to fish in those waters belongs to the owner of the soil under those waters. The public may also fish in non-tidal waters if the soil under those waters is Crown land. However in order to enable angling access in NSW rivers and creeks, section 38 of the NSW Fisheries Management Act 1994 declares that the public has a right to fish despite the private ownership of the bed of the river or creek.
From the NSW Fisheries Management Act 1994 No 38
Part 2, Division 5, Section 38:
“Right to fish in certain inland waters
“(1) A person may take fish from waters in a river or creek that are not subject to tidal influence despite the fact that the bed of those waters is not Crown land if, for the purpose of taking those fish, the person is in a boat on those waters or is on the bed of the river or creek.
“(2) The right conferred by this section is subject to the other provisions of this Act.
“(3) In this section, bed of a river or creek includes any part of the bed of the river or creek which is alternatively covered and left bare with an increase or decrease in the supply of water (other than during floods).”
This legislation ranks above anything you may have heard about ‘old title’ and ‘Queen’s chain’ access.
It is very specific and special legislation that applies just to recreational fishing; there is no similar legislation that applies to other recreational activities, so anglers should value and protect this legislation.
Under this legislation you can legally access streams by entering from public land such as road crossings and some types of reserves.
Access across private land
There is no automatic legal access across private land in NSW to reach angling locations. You cannot walk across a paddock or yard to reach the river without permission of the land owner.
If you are granted permission to walk or drive across private land, make sure you leave gates as you find them, don’t drive across crops, disturb stock, interfere with farm machinery, light fires or create any other nuisance, risks or damage. Do not take dogs or guns unless you have specifically negotiated this with the land owner. If you see injured stock or other problems when you are on a farm, immediately alert the farmer.
Negotiating access across private land
Owners of properties adjacent to popular fishing locations are often wary of giving access to anglers. They have quite reasonable concerns about fires and other risks, damage to their properties, disturbance of their stock and crops, presence of dogs, use of firearms and so on. Some anglers also fail to recognise that the land is private property, just as a suburban front yard is, and that the land owner, his family and workers are entitled to privacy and security.
However fishing access across private property can usually be negotiated by a courteous approach to the land owner, giving all due recognition to the owner’s privacy, rights and concerns. We suggest you visit, phone or write to the property owner, asking for the privilege to enter their property to fish.
You should clearly state your name, address and phone number, the date you hope to fish at the location, description and registration of your car and the number of people in your party. You should promise to stay as close as possible to the stream and not cross the property unnecessarily, not to take dogs or guns onto the property and not to light fires unless agreed by the landowner.
You should try and make contact personally when you visit the property, even if access has been negotiated by phone or letter. If you visit the property to request access, make sure you offer to leave the landowner with your details (name, address, phone number, etc written out) so that they know they can contact you if they discover any problems after you have left.
Remember that if you have negotiated access for yourself, it does not mean you have negotiated it for all your mates. They should get their own permissions.
Being granted access once does not mean you have some sort of perpetual permission… if you intend to visit the property again always make contact beforehand. The situation may have changed, eg at certain times of the year a farmer may not want stock disturbed, or the landowner may have invited someone else to visit the property that day. Be courteous and flexible and ask if access on another occasion might be possible.
Access laws vary from state to state. The advice above applies to NSW. Other parts of Australia have different property laws. For information contact your state’s fisheries department.