Sustainable fisheries management and allocation

MPI promotes policies and regulations to support sustainability and administers how fisheries resources are allocated.

Supporting sustainable fisheries management

Much of MPI's work involves making sure fisheries are managed sustainably.

Our activities include:

  • setting catch limits and other restrictions like minimum size, and controls on fishing methods to protect vulnerable species and aquatic environments
  • administering the Quota Management System
  • contracting fisheries research
  • monitoring fishing activity
  • enforcing fishing rules
  • ensuring the needs of all sectors – commercial, recreational, and Māori – are considered
  • resource management and planning.

The Fisheries Act 1996 and sustainability

MPI is responsible for administering the Fisheries Act 1996 and its supporting regulations. The Act aims to allow commercial, recreational, and customary fishers access to resources while ensuring fish stocks are managed sustainably. Sustainable catch levels determine how many fish can be harvested.

The Act includes law about:

  • the application and administration of the Quota Management System (QMS)
  • measures that contribute to the sustainability of fisheries resources and avoiding, remedying or mitigating any adverse effects of fishing on the aquatic environment
  • recognition of the Treaty of Waitangi (Fisheries Claims) Settlement Act 1992 and the creation of tools to provide for customary use and fishery management practices
  • provisions for allocating the Total Allowable Catch (TAC) between Māori customary non-commercial fishing, recreational, and commercial interests.

New Zealand's Quota Management System

The cornerstone of New Zealand's fisheries management regime is the Quota Management System (QMS), which was introduced in 1986. Under the QMS a yearly catch limit (the total allowable catch) is set for every fish stock. A fish stock is a species of fish, shellfish or seaweed from a particular area of New Zealand waters. By controlling the amount of fish taken from each stock, the QMS helps keep New Zealand fisheries sustainable.

From the total allowable catch, an allowance is made for recreational and customary fishing and other fishing-related mortality, and the remainder is the total allowable commercial catch (TACC). Each year Annual Catch Entitlement (ACE) is generated on the basis of the TACC and issued to holders of quota. All commercial fishers must obtain ACE to cover the QMS fish they catch in a fishing year.


2015 Fisheries system review diagram
Fig 1: Simplified model of how the Quota Management System allocates fish stock between users


Quota allocations encourage sustainable fishing

Quota is allocated when a new species is brought into the QMS. Allocating quota to fishers encourages them to make sure their catch levels are sustainable because they are guaranteed a permanent share of the fishery in the future.

By law, catch limits for every fish stock have to be set at levels that ensure their long-term sustainability. MPI rigorously monitors the amount of fish caught against these limits and financial penalties apply to commercial fishers who catch in excess of their limits in any one year.

The QMS has delivered significant benefits – most of the stocks that were over-fished before the introduction of the QMS, now have sustainable catch limits in place.

Other controls

Other measures used to sustainably manage fisheries include:

  • size limits – to help ensure there are enough sexually mature individuals among populations
  • area restrictions – to protect important nursery or juvenile areas, or to deal with pockets of depleted stocks
  • controls on fishing methods
  • restrictions based on sex (for example, egg-laden females) or certain biological states.

Administration of commercial fisheries

Anyone taking fish for sale must hold a commercial fishing permit. Permits can be issued for between 1 and 5 years.

The amount of fish that can legally be harvested by permit holders depends on the amount of Annual Catch Entitlement (ACE) they hold or obtain.

Valuable right carries obligations

The right to fish commercially is a valuable right.  In return for this right commercial fishers are obliged to:

  • Fish from a registered fishing vessel.
  • Keep records of catch, effort and landings.
  • Report regularly to MPI on their catch, effort and landings.
  • Not discard or abandon QMS fish in the sea (with limited exceptions).
  • Land catch to approved licensed fish receivers (LFR) (with limited exceptions).

Commercial fishers who fail to meet these obligations risk prosecution.

MPI is required to keep a fishing permit register.  This register is a public register for the purposes of the Privacy Act 1993, is held electronically and is open for inspection. Maintenance of the register is managed by Commercial Fisheries Services Limited (FishServe).

Protection activities

MPI invests heavily in monitoring fishing activity and in encouraging and enforcing compliance with the law. Fishery officers patrol New Zealand's coastline to ensure all fishers comply with the rules. Fishing vessels are also monitored at sea using satellite technology, aircraft, and patrol boats to ensure their crews follow the rules. In addition, MPI observers are often placed on fishing boats to monitor and record what fishers catch, and any interactions with seabirds, marine mammals, or protected corals.

With the help of the New Zealand Defence Forces, MPI also works to maintain the integrity of the New Zealand Exclusive Economic Zone. High seas patrols are done periodically to inspect vessels that fish in the vicinity of our waters.

Another priority for MPI is ensuring the effects of fishing on marine environments are kept within acceptable levels. Regulations and industry agreements are set to reduce the impact of fishing on protected species such as the New Zealand sea lion, fur seals, and seabirds. Restrictions are also in place to protect Hector's and Māui's dolphins – the world's smallest and rarest dolphins. These measures are all monitored by MPI.

Recreational fishing

MPI is responsible for setting and enforcing recreational fishing rules. These rules help keep fisheries sustainable, ensuring they can be enjoyed by future generations.

Recreational fishing rules differ depending on fishing location. All rules are set out in the Fisheries (Amateur Fishing) Regulations 2013. The regulations cover:

  • bag and catch limits
  • minimum sizes
  • potting and netting methods
  • equipment
  • restricted and closed areas.

Customary fishing

Fisheries are a traditional source of economic and cultural wealth for iwi and hapū.  Being able to provide fish or shellfish to feed whānau (family) or manuhiri (guests) has always been part of the cultural heritage of tangata whenua, or "people of the land".

The Kaimoana Customary Fishing Regulations 1998 and the Fisheries (South Island Customary Fishing) Regulations 1999 recognise the role of tangata whenua in managing their customary fisheries.

These regulations let iwi and hapū manage their non-commercial fishing in a way that best fits their local practices, without having a major effect on the fishing rights of others. When the government sets the total catch limits for fisheries each year, it allows for this customary use of fisheries.

Freshwater fisheries management

The freshwater fisheries management regime in New Zealand is complex. Regulatory responsibilities overlap between different agencies. There is very little commercial fishing for wild freshwater species managed under the Fisheries Act with the exception of eels.

The Department of Conservation (DOC) has responsibilities under the Conservation Act 1987 to manage whitebait, and control access to waterways administered in DOC-administered public lands. DOC also administers the Freshwater Fisheries Regulations 1983, which has provisions relating to indigenous fish, noxious fish, and waterways. These regulations also set out the licensing system for freshwater sports fishing. This system is managed by Fish and Game councils.

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