Managing our catches

We've put rules and restrictions in place to carefully manage fisheries. Catch limits, observers, and other measures help to ensure sustainability and access for all New Zealanders.

How we manage New Zealand's fisheries

We've got controls on fishing methods and ongoing research in place to manage our fisheries. Whether it's recreational, commercial or customary fishing, sustainability is our top priority.

Managing recreational fishing

Fishing is a favourite pastime for many New Zealanders. But there are rules to follow wherever you're fishing in New Zealand. The rules outline bag and size limits, area closures and other restrictions.

Ensuring fishers know the rules

People will usually follow rules if they understand them. We do a lot of education and promotion to encourage people to follow and understand recreational fishing rules. We provide brochures, post signs in fishing areas and share information online. We also have an app – the NZ Fishing Rules App.

Our rules come with penalties if they're not followed, so it's important you're aware of them.

Improving communication

MPI is working to improve communication with recreational fishers through our Recreational Fishing Initiative.

Customary fishing

Tangata whenua have an enduring interest in their local fisheries – a right guaranteed to them by the Treaty of Waitangi.

Fish and seafood taken for customary use is controlled and authorised by appointed Tangata Kaitiaki/Tangata Tiaki (guardians), who report this catch to us. MPI regulations also help to strengthen the rights of tangata whenua to manage their local fisheries.

Managing commercial fishing

Seafood is one of New Zealand's significant export earners – fisheries exports were worth $1.2 billion in 2015 alone.

Maintaining this industry is important, and the Quota Management System (QMS) plays a key role. Each year, the Government sets a catch limit for every fish population (stock) in the QMS to ensure the sustainability of commercial catches. Government observers on commercial fishing vessels and vessel inspections by MPI help ensure fishing data is accurate. We are looking at improved methods for recording catch and by-catch on inshore vessels.

The Treaty of Waitangi acknowledges Māori possession and use of fisheries. Since 1992, Māori have been allocated 20% of the commercial quota for each species managed under our QMS.

Find out more

Other recreational and commercial catch restrictions

Along with bag and catch limits, we also set minimum size limits for certain fish species. These limits let the fish reach maturity and spawn before being caught.

We've also banned certain damaging fishing methods, and all fishing nets and traps must have the correct mesh size or escape openings to let small fish get away.

Targeted compliance efforts

There are more than 1,100 registered commercial fishing vessels in New Zealand and over 600,000 recreational fishers. That's a lot of fishing activity to manage.

We focus our compliance efforts on people and areas where offending has occurred before or is likely to occur in the future.

Monitoring and observing commercial vessels

It's difficult and expensive to monitor our fisheries, as breaches usually occur out at sea. We do several hundred at-sea inspections of commercial catch and catch records each year. Sometimes we use our own vessels, and sometimes we work with the Navy or Air Force.

More than 25% of all deepwater catch is taken by vessels with an MPI observer on-board. Our observers gather important information on the size and ages of fish caught. Observer coverage on inshore vessels focuses on areas where we need information, particularly regarding marine mammals and seabirds.

Inspections on land

Once landed, commercial catches are under constant scrutiny. Every year, MPI will carry out hundreds of vessel inspections at wharves around New Zealand. We'll compare the species and weight of fish in a hold with a skipper's catch records.

Inspections through the value chain

MPI also does about 1,000 checks each year of fish buyers and sellers. Our officers look for evidence of black market fish – those fish that haven't been reported.

Monitoring recreational fishing catch

In 2015, MPI inspected the catches of over 23,000 recreational fishers. Many of these inspections were carried out by our honorary fishery officers – volunteers working to safeguard their local fisheries.

Investigations and prosecutions

In 2015 alone, we carried out over 2,500 inspections of commercial fishers and fish sellers. We identified 260 breaches of legislation – a 90% compliance rate. The compliance rate for recreational fishers was 94%.

When we have evidence that fishers or companies have broken the law, we issue fines and in some cases prosecute. In 2015, we pursued over 250 prosecutions through the courts.

Fisheries management in the future

Public views of what was considered normal behaviour 30 years ago have changed and people increasingly want assurance of sustainability and environmental consideration in our fisheries. MPI is exploring new ways of monitoring fish catches, particularly for inshore fish, and managing the environmental effects of fishing.

A review is underway

MPI is carrying out an operational review of New Zealand’s current fisheries management system. We're looking at complex issues such as shared fisheries and who should be apportioned rights of access, improving marine protection, how we manage fisheries within a wider ecosystem, and how we can use new technologies to improve fisheries management to meet future expectations.

The review will help us ensure our management system is still fit-for-purpose.

Taking advantage of new technologies

Technology is quickly transforming how we work. The Integrated Electronic Monitoring and Reporting System (IEMRS) will soon revolutionise how we manage commercial fisheries. It will be able to tell us – in real time – where vessels are, what they're catching and how many fish they've caught. This is particularly useful for small inshore vessels without the space to carry observers.

Who to contact

If you have questions about fisheries management, email

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