Monitoring and observing fishing activity

Monitoring fishing activity is central to ensuring that we have sustainable fisheries. Find out how we monitor New Zealand's fishing activity.

Monitoring and observing overview

Monitoring fishing activity helps us to:

  • find out the types and quantity of fish being caught
  • monitor by-catch
  • gather accurate and useful information                                            
  • ensure that regulations are followed by fishers
  • fine or prosecute where illegal activity happens.

Our main monitoring activities

Fisheries New Zealand invests a lot into monitoring fishing activity. Ways that we monitor include:

  • patrols by fishery officers
  • using satellite technology, aircraft, and patrol boats to monitor vessels and crews
  • observers on board commercial fishing vessels, who record what is caught (including by-catch impact on seabirds and marine mammals).

Monitoring helps us analyse fishing trends and patterns to identify issues.   

We have our own vessels for monitoring. We also work with the Navy and Air Force. This helps us to increase our reach and effectiveness.

We monitor commercial and recreational fishing.

Monitoring commercial fishing

Fishery officers inspect commercial fishing vessels and commercial premises that buy and sell fish, to ensure that the fish have been reported and recorded correctly. Fishery officers conduct sea patrols that target commercial vessels. When they board, they inspect catches and ensure that catch reports are correct.

Fishery observers are also deployed on commercial fishing vessels to monitor and record fishing information. The number of fishery observers has more than doubled since 2006.

Each year:

  • our observer programme plans more than 11,000 days at sea
  • we complete over 1,000 commercial vessel inspections
  • we carry out nearly 30,000 fishing patrols and inspections.

This information, along with our other intelligence gathering, leads to hundreds of prosecutions each year, and thousands of infringements issued.

Over 25% of all deepwater catch is taken by vessels with a Fisheries New Zealand observer on board. Our observers gather important information on:

  • the size, sex, and ages of fish caught
  • the amount of fish caught
  • by-catch and information on marine mammals and seabirds
  • different species caught
  • how catches are retained
  • how catches are handled and processed on board (if any occurs).

The information we gather is used to get a better understanding of what is happening at sea.

It is difficult and expensive to monitor our fisheries as offences usually happen at sea.  New Zealand has over 4 million square kilometres of ocean which makes it very difficult to cover. Despite this, every year we conduct several hundred at-sea inspections to help preserve and protect our fisheries for future generations.

Taking advantage of new technologies

New technology is transforming how we monitor fishing activity. We’re developing a new digital system for tracking, monitoring, and reporting of commercial fishing. 

Inspections on land

Fishery officers and honorary fishery officers carry out tens of thousands of recreational fishing inspections each year. Most of these inspections are conducted on land at beaches, launching ramps and marinas.

Monitoring recreational fishing

To monitor recreational fishing, fishery officers conduct both land and sea patrols targeting specific times of the day and night when fishers are most active. Patrol vessels are used throughout the country to inspect recreational fishers at sea. 

The role of fishery officers

Fishery officers work across New Zealand, covering all sectors of our fisheries (recreational, customary and commercial).

A large part of a fishery officer's role is educating fishers on the rules and regulations that are put in place to protect our fisheries.

Fishery officers have specific enforcement powers which allow them to stop, question and search vessels, vehicles and premises, to ensure that fish have been taken lawfully.

Honorary fishery officers

Honorary fishery officers are volunteers who help to protect their local fisheries.

Their support is vital to our work with over 200 honorary fishery officers patrolling throughout New Zealand, often in remote areas. 

They have similar powers to full-time fishery officers, including the powers to stop, question, and search.

Find out more

Who to contact

If you have questions about fisheries monitoring, email

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