We assessed small-scale movement patterns of fishes on three eastern Tasmanian reefs by divers visually resighting 1 040 individuals of 16 species marked with unique colour-coded tags. With the possible exception of the monacanthid Acanthaluteres vittiger, common species showed high fidelity to site, with individuals generally resighted <100 m from the initial tagging site and remaining near the tagging site throughout the 1 year duration of study. The wrasses Pictilabrus laticlavius and Notolabrus tetricus were more sedentary than Notolabrus fucicola and the monacanthids Meuschenia australis and Meuschenia freycineti. Body length, sex, water temperature and time since tagging had little influence on distance moved compared to variation between individuals, other than movement distance increasing with body length for N. tetricus. Movement patterns were generally consistent at all three sites, although mean distance moved by N. fucicola was double at Swanport and Return Point compared to Lobster Point. N. tetricus but not P. laticlavius emigrated from areas artificially cleared of macroalgae. The sedentary nature of most small- to medium-sized reef fish species, particularly labrids, indicates that relatively small (≈1 km diameter) marine protected areas should generally provide conservation benefits for these fishes but few ‘spillover’ benefits in surrounding areas.