Observer services

Our observers collect independent information on board commercial fishing vessels about fishing catch and effort, fishing activity, and effects of fishing on the environment. Find out about the information they collect, what you need to do if an observer is on your vessel, and our planned observer days.

What fisheries observers do

Fisheries New Zealand places observers on vessels commercially fishing in New Zealand waters and the high seas, if landing to New Zealand (under international agreements). They independently confirm catch and effort to catch fish and collect a range of information including:

  • data on fish being caught, fish processing and fishing activity
  • information about marine mammal and bird interactions
  • biological information for stock assessment
  • unusual specimens for museums
  • information about vessel safety and employment.

Independent catch and effort data

Observers collect independent data to compare to fishing vessel data. They keep a separate catch and effort logbook, recording:

  • catch calculations and amounts for all species caught
  • details of fishing operations such as:
    • start and finish times
    • positions
    • fishing and bottom depths
    • devices and practices to protect non-targeted species
    • catch data for each tow or set.

Data collected for other agencies

Observers collect information for Fisheries New Zealand as well as for the:

If an observer is on your vessel

If we ask you to take an observer on your fishing vessel, then you must carry one as a condition of your fishing permit. You must provide them with:

  • food
  • accommodation
  • access to the vessel, records, fish, crew, and equipment
  • full access to communication devices on the vessel
  • help to complete their duties.

Observers aren't enforcement officers, but they must record any potential offences they observe.

2019-2020 observer seadays plan

Each year, Fisheries New Zealand and the Department of Conservation plan the number of observer days needed at sea for different fisheries and clients. The 'seadays plan' is for 1 July to 30 June each year.

The following tables show the current number of sea days planned for each fishery and the total delivered up to 30 April 2020.

Inshore fisheries

Middle-depth fisheries

Deepwater fisheries

Highly migratory

Other fisheries

Inshore fisheries

FisheryStock management and environment (Fisheries NZ)Conservation (DOC)Total plannedTotal completed 
West Coast North Island set net + bottom long-line SNA 8 0 0 175 93
West Coast North Island inshore trawl (2-7nm) 325 325 650 381
Snapper 1 (SNA1) trawl-Standard 52.5 52.5 105 94
Snapper 1(SNA1) trawl-PSH 52.5 52.5 105 62
South Coast South Island set net 87.5 87.5 175 155
East Coast South Island set net 62.5 62.5 125 87
Bottom long line - (SNA1) 192.5 192.5 385 261
Bluenose/hapuku & bass 1 (BNS/HPB1) bottom long-line 17.5 17.5 35 8
Trawl - ECSI 125 125 250 139

Middle-depth (MD) fisheries

FisheryStock management and environment (Fisheries NZ)Conservation (DOC)Total plannedTotal completed 
West Coast North Island 212.5 37.5 250 380
West Coast South Island 552.5 97.5 650 633
Chatham Rise Middle Depth 552.5 97.5 650 759
Sub-Antarctic Middle Depth 425 75 500 540
Hoki Cook Strait 127.5 22.5 150 136
WCSI Hoki-Inside the line 127.5 22.5 150 137
Scampi 360 90 450 239
Ling BLL (all vessel sizes) 340 60 400 278
Southern blue whiting 320 80 400 511
Squid 1,000 250 1,250 1,994

Deepwater (DW) fisheries

FisheryStock management and environment (Fisheries NZ)Conservation (DOC)Total plannedTotal completed
North Island Deepwater 108 10 100 76
Chatham Rise Deepwater 90 30 300 224
Sub-Antarctic Deepwater 212.5 12 120 40
West Coast Deepwater 552.5 10 100 31

Highly migratory species

FisheryStock management and environment (Fisheries NZ)Conservation (DOC)Total plannedTotal completed
Domestic tuna surface long-line – East Coast southern bluefin tuna 136 24 160 139
Domestic tuna surface long-line - West Coast southern bluefin tuna 136 24 160 49
Domestic surface long-line - East Coast bigeye tuna and swordfish 128 23 150 93
Domestic surface long-line - West Coast bigeye tuna and swordfish 47 8 55 0
ALB troll 70 0 70 67


Fishery1ComplianceRequested days/permit requirements (industry)Total plannedTotal completed
Compliance 100   100 0
High or medium risk vessels   100 100 0
CCAMLR     263 275
SPFRMO trawl     500 153
SPRFMO bottom long-line     50 50
SPRFMO Exploratory bottom long-line     180 94
Precision Seafood Harvesting trials     200 0
WCPFC surface longline     10 0
Vessel specific conversion factor     60 7

1CCAMLR – Commission for the Conservation of the Antarctic Marine Living Resources, SPFRMO – South Pacific Regional Fisheries Management Organisation, WCPFC – Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Management Commission

Observer pre-placement health and safety assessments

Commercial fishing vessels need to pass a health and safety assessment before an observer can board for departure. This will help Fisheries New Zealand meet its obligations under the Health and Safety at Work Act 2015.

Fisheries New Zealand staff will assess a vessel before the observer is deployed. This should give the owner the opportunity to mitigate health and safety issues without it being held in port.

For now, a pre-placement health and safety assessment must always be performed before an observer boards for departure. To reduce the disruption that assessments may cause, Fisheries New Zealand is developing a risk assessment process to determine how often assessments are needed. This will make sure everyone meets their health and safety obligations with the least disruption.

Fisheries New Zealand has developed assessment forms for both inshore and deep water vessels. Fishers should read these to ensure they understand what inspections will involve.

Deep water pre-placement health and safety assessment form [PDF, 196 KB]

Inshore pre-placement health and safety assessment form [PDF, 183 KB]

Previous seadays plans

2018-2019 observer seadays [PDF, 45 KB]

2017-2018 observer seadays [PDF, 360 KB]

2016-2017 observer seadays [PDF, 358 KB]

Who to contact

If you have questions about observers, email

Last reviewed: