Spatial and temporal patterns in catch rates and in allocation of fishing effort were analysed for the coastal fishery in Spermonde Archipelago, Indonesia, to assess whether fishermen can optimise their strategy from catch information, or whether they fish under great uncertainty and merely minimise risks. On average 517 fishing units operated in the 2800 km2 area, catching 21 t fish day-1. Major gear categories were hook and line (59␘f total effort and 5␘f total catch), and lift nets (16␘f total effort and 70␘f total catch). The size of individual resource spaces varied with gear type and was smaller in unfavourable weather conditions. Although spatial patterns in catch rates at the scale of the whole archipelago were evident, fishermen could not differentiate between locations, as catch variance within their individual resource spaces was high relative to the contrasts in spatial patterns. The aggregated distribution of fishing effort in Spermonde must be explained by factors such as the small scale of operations, rather than fish abundance.