Quota Management System

The Quota Management System (QMS) guides the sustainable use of New Zealand fisheries. Find out what the QMS is and how it works.

About the Quota Management System

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

The QMS has delivered significant benefits. Before its introduction in 1986, we had limited ability to stop fish stocks becoming overfished. Now we have an ever-growing body of information about the health of our fisheries and can set catch limits to make sure they remain sustainable.  

Our ability to do this effectively is continually evolving. We have a programme of work in place called the Fisheries Change Programme, which will lead to significant improvements. This will include digital monitoring of all commercial fishing vessels.

The Fisheries Act 1996 guides our management of the QMS.

QMS encourages sustainable fishing

By law, catch limits for every fish stock have to be set at levels that ensure their long-term sustainability. We rigorously monitor the amount of fish caught compared to set catch limits. There are financial penalties for commercial fishers who catch more than their entitlement in a year.

Those who deliberately break the law can face serious consequences, including the confiscation of fishing vessels and jail.

Fish stocks under the QMS

While most species in the QMS are managed separately, sometimes we manage similar species (like flatfish species) in groups if they are:

  • often caught together
  • difficult for fishers to identify or distinguish from each other.

New Zealand has 98 species (or species groups) divided into 642 separate fish stocks under the QMS.

Quota Management Areas

Fish stocks in the QMS are separated by Quota Management Areas (QMAs).

For example, the snapper fishery is divided into 6 management areas.


These areas are based on administrative and biological factors for the species such as how many fish there are in different regions.  Managing fish stocks in QMAs allows finer control over stocks – we can set sustainable catch levels to suit different areas.

Under the Fisheries Change Programme we are considering ways to manage fisheries at even finer scales to reflect local conditions.

Total allowable catch affects fisher allowance

The total allowable catch (TAC) is set to allow the maximum sustainable catch from a fish stock while accounting for natural variation. The Minister for Fisheries sets the TAC with advice from us.

TAC is shared between the different users of the fishery. An allowance is made for recreational and customary fishing and other fishing-related mortality. The remainder is the total allowable commercial catch (TACC) which limits the amount of fish that can be caught by commercial fishers.

This diagram shows how the Quota Management System shares fish stocks between fishers:


How quota works

Quota is a share in a fish stock. The total number of quota shares for a fish stock is always 100,000,000. Like other shares, quota can be bought and sold.

Each year, quota owners get an Annual Catch Entitlement (ACE) – the right to catch a certain amount of a fish stock during the fishing year. The amount of ACE that quota holders get varies, depending on the TACC (total allowable commercial catch) set for that year. ACE can be bought and sold during the year and commercial fishers must have enough ACE to cover the QMS fish they catch during the year. If they don't, they face financial penalties.

Limits on owned quota

There are limits on how much quota people can own – called aggregation limits. Aggregation limits can be placed on a whole species or an individual stock.

In some cases, the Minister for Fisheries may allow a person to hold more than the specified aggregation limit after consulting with other quota holders.

Aggregation limits don't apply to the Crown, Te Ohu Kai Moana Trustee Limited, and the Chatham Islands Enterprise Trust.

Reporting under the QMS

To help us monitor and manage New Zealand fisheries, the QMS requires regular reporting from fishers and licensed fish receivers (LFRs).

Commercial fishers (permit holders) must provide:

  • catch, effort, and landing returns for each fishing trip
  • monthly harvest returns.

LFRs must submit a return each month. This lists:

  • amounts and types of fish received in the previous month
  • fishers that supplied the fish to them.

Our scientists and fisheries managers use the information from returns to make management recommendations about the:

  • total allowable catch for a fish stock
  • total allowable commercial catch for a fish stock
  • deemed values (charged when fishers catch more than their entitlement)
  • accuracy of fisheries reporting (by cross-checking LFR and fisher returns).

Find out more

Fisheries registers

We are required to keep public registers of:

  • quota
  • ACE
  • fishing permits
  • fishing vessels
  • automatic location communicators
  • high seas permits.

These registers are administered by a separate organisation, FishServe, on our behalf.

Who to contact

If you have questions about the quota management system, email info@mpi.govt.nz 

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