Fish stock status

We regularly assess New Zealand fish stocks and compare them against 4 performance measures. Get the latest results on the status of our fish stocks.

How sustainable are our fish stocks?

The soft limit is an important performance measure as it can show potential sustainability issues.

We know the status of 160 stocks against the soft limit. Most of our fish stocks are in good shape (above the soft limit):

  • 82% or 131 stocks and sub-stocks
  • 94% of catch by weight.

Overfished stocks

29 stocks or sub-stocks are below the soft limit:

  • southern bluefin tuna, Pacific bluefin tuna, and striped marlin (highly migratory species that aren't always in our waters)
  • 3 stocks of black cardinalfish
  • 5 stocks or sub-stocks of bluenose
  • 3 stocks or sub-stocks of tarakihi
  • 2 stocks or sub-stocks of orange roughy
  • 2 stocks or sub-stocks of snapper
  • 2 stocks or sub-stocks of scallops
  • 2 stocks or sub-stocks of oysters
  • 1 stock or sub-stock each of hake, flatfish, John dory, rock lobster, pāua, pipi, and freshwater eels.

Rebuilding for sustainable stocks

We're managing these fisheries to rebuild them towards target levels, for example by:

  • reducing total allowable commercial catches of QMS stocks
  • supporting management of highly migratory species under international arrangements.

Rebuilding of New Zealand orange roughy stock

Fisheries New Zealand is serious about protecting New Zealand’s fisheries and ensuring there's a sustainable future for our fish stocks.

Research helps set catch limits

Orange roughy is a slow growing fish species that can live to be 120 years old.

We carry out research on orange roughy fish stocks regularly. It helps us make sure they're healthy and sustainable.

New technology allows scientists to more accurately estimate orange roughy populations. This research helps the Government set annual catch limits to ensure fishers don't catch too much. If the research shows that orange roughy numbers have grown, catch limits may be increased. If estimated fish numbers have decreased, then catch limits may be reduced.

Work to monitor and rebuild stocks

Since commercial fishing of orange roughy began in the late 1970s, catch limits have varied. After catches peaked in the 1980s, 3 orange roughy fisheries were closed. Catch limits for others were reduced. These changes allowed the number of fish to increase.

Since 2014, we've completed stock assessments on the 3 fisheries that closed, as well as updating the stock status for a number of other orange roughy stocks. They show that orange roughy populations have either fully rebuilt or are in the process of rebuilding. Catch limits have generally increased as a result. Fisheries scientists will keep monitoring the population status to ensure that catch limits are set at the right level.

Find out more

Catch and allowances for fish stocks

Management by stock levels

Fisheries New Zealand assesses and manages fish stocks using 4 performance measures:

  • A soft limit – below this level, a fish stock is considered to be overfished or depleted and needs to be actively rebuilt, for example by reducing the total allowable catch.
  • A hard limit – below this level, a fish stock is considered to have collapsed and fisheries may need to be closed to rebuild at the fastest possible rate.
  • Overfishing threshold – a rate of stock removal that shouldn't be exceeded as it will lead to stocks falling below other performance measures.
  • A target level – the level we want a fish stock to fluctuate around for the best balance between use and sustainability, while allowing for environmental variation.

Stock status graph showing the fluctuations in stock size over time (years) and the relationship between the management target and the soft and the hard limits for a stock that is fished perfectly at an optimal constant rate.

Current stock status

Our December 2019 stock status table shows the status of 388 of New Zealand's main fish stocks (or sub-stocks).

Stock status table for fish stocks [PDF, 178 KB]

Which stocks are included

Of the 388 fish stocks or sub-stocks included:

  • 40 were assessed in 2019
  • 120 were assessed in previous years
  • 383 are Quota Management System (QMS) stocks or sub-stocks
  • 5 are non-QMS species that are Antarctic or highly migratory species.

Nominal stocks not included

We haven't included 297 QMS fish stocks that:

  • are in areas outside the main range of a species – set up for administrative purposes only
  • have insignificant catch or catch allowance (generally close to zero tonnes)
  • have little to no potential to develop as either recreational or commercial fisheries.

Download a list of nominal fish stocks [PDF, 208 KB]

How we assess fish stocks

Fisheries New Zealand's Harvest Strategy Standard (HSS) guides the way we assess and manage fish stocks under the QMS.

Download the Harvest Strategy Standard [PDF, 237 KB]

Reports for individual species

Each year, we convene a large number of Fisheries Assessment Working Group meetings to assess the status of fish stocks using:

  • scientific research (from contracted research providers)
  • validated catch and fishing effort reports from commercial fisheries
  • data from our on-board observer programme
  • other relevant information.

This information is summarised in 2 annual fisheries assessment plenary reports – the main one in May (3 volumes) and one for rock lobsters and highly migratory species (1 volume) in November. The plenary reports provide information on our fisheries and the status of each fish stock.

Fisheries assessment plenary May 2019 – Volume 1: Introductory section and alfonsino to groper [PDF, 20 MB]

Fisheries assessment plenary May 2019 – Volume 2: Hake to pilchard [PDF, 22 MB]

Fisheries assessment plenary May 2019 – Volume 3: Pipi to yellow-eyed mullet [PDF, 20 MB]

Fisheries assessment plenary November 2019 – Stock assessments and stock status [PDF, 13 MB]

Who to contact

If you have questions about fish stock status, email

Last reviewed: