Managing fisheries to meet social, economic and ecological objectives is a fundamental problem encountered in fisheries management worldwide. In Australia, fisheries management involves a complex set of national and sub-national policy arrangements, including those designed to deliver against ecologically sustainable development (ESD) objectives. The complex policy framework makes ensuring policy coherence and avoiding unintended consequences difficult, particularly where potential trade-offs are not made explicit. Coherence, or potential policy weakness, of Australian fisheries management in relation to ESD objectives was examined in a subset of Australian wild capture fisheries, at national and jurisdictional scales. Coherent policy frameworks with ESD objectives were found to be more likely at the legislative-level across jurisdictions (horizontal coherence), than other levels of implementation. Many fisheries had problems demonstrating coherence between legislation and management plans due to lack of inclusion of ESD policy themes at management and operational levels. Case studies revealed substantial variation in the likelihood for horizontal and vertical coherence between fisheries policy frameworks managing the same species. The lack of explicit ESD objectives observed in many Australian fisheries suggests a high likelihood of incoherence in fisheries management, or alternatively that managers may be informally persuing higher levels of policy coordination and coherence than can be detected. Lack of detectability of coherence is problematic for demonstrating accountability and transparency in decision-making and public policy. Furthermore, use of discretion by managers when developing management plans, in order to overcome policy weakness, may lead to drifts in individual management direction within a jurisdiction.