Seafood Sustainability and the Quota Management System

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As a coastal nation, marine resources and fishing have always been important to New Zealand, however, many of New Zealand's fishing stocks are under pressure from the shared interest of commercial, recreational and customary fishers (Ministry of Fisheries, 2008). Managing our fisheries in a sustainable manner is essential to ensuring that our fisheries remain world class. The objective here is to find out just how sustainable fisheries management is in New Zealand. This is done by looking at the pressure and state of our fisheries, both as a whole and through three case studies of specific fish stocks, and by evaluating how our fisheries are managed, in particular through the Quota Management System.

Fishing in New Zealand and the Quota Management System

General Information

Fishing is an important activity in New Zealand, with a long history which goes back to when Maori first arrived in Aotearoa. Fisheries are an important part of our natural heritage and are managed for the benefits of a number of different users: recreational, commercial and customary fishers (Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI), 2013a).

Figure 1: Recreational Fishing (Source: The Surf Coast News, 2013)
Recreational Fishing
Fishing is one of New Zealand's most popular recreational activities with more than a million New Zealanders going recreationally fishing each year (Figure 1) (Ministry of Fisheries (MoF), 2008). Recreational fishers take a large number of finish, shellfish and rock lobster every year (MPI, 2013b). The motivation for those taking part in recreational fishing ranges from fishing purely for sports and fun to fishing for food (Borch, 2010).
Commercial Fishing
Figure 2: Commercial Fishing (Source: Ministry of Fisheries, 2008).
The commercial fisheries sector is responsible for the main bulk of fish catches in New Zealand and is of high economic importance, with seafood exports generally ranking as New Zealand's fourth or fifth largest export earner (MPI, 2013b). Each year the fishing industry harvests about 600,000 tonnes from wild fisheries and aquaculture, worth $1.2 to $1.5 billion, and employs nearly 10,000 people (MoF, 2008). There are 130 species which are fished commercially in New Zealand's waters. Some of the major commercial species are squid, hoki, orange roughy, silver warehou, spiny rock lobster, paua and snapper. (Figure 2).
Customary Fishing
Fisheries are an important traditional asset for Maori and the customary fishing regulations are there to formally recognize the special relationship which the tangata whenua hold with the ocean and fisheries (MoF, 2006). Maori play a role in both commercial and non-commercial fishing. They were provided with a substantial stake in commercial fishing through Treaty settlements. These settlements gave them half ownership of New Zealand's biggest fishing company (Sealord) and 20% of the commercial quota shares (MPI, 2013c). Customary regulations set out how Maori can manage non-commercial fishing in their area in a way that best fits their local practices (MPI, 2013b).

New Zealand's fisheries face many different problems, similar to those which are faced all around the world. These include over-fishing, poaching, changes in the environment and increasing demands for fish and other fish products (MPI, 2013c). It is important that our fisheries are managed in a sustainable way to help combat these problems.

The Quota Management System

The Quota Management System (QMS) was introduced in 1986 in response to problems of overfishing and overcapitalization of New Zealand's Fisheries (Borch, 2010). The QMS is meant to help "ensure sustainable utilisation of fisheries resources through the direct control of harvest levels for each species in a nominated geographical area" (MPI, 2013a). New Zealand's QMS is an Individual Fishery Quota management system which provides individuals or companies with rights to a share of the total allowable catch from a fish stock (Sanchirico et al., 2006). This is a form of fishery management also used in Iceland, Canada and Australia.

In 1986 there were initially 27 species introduced into the QMS. Each species in the QMS is subdivided into separate fish stocks which are defined by Quota Management Areas. These areas are based on a combination of biological and administrative factors. Each stock is managed independently. Today there are 100 species (or species groupings) in the QMS, which are divided into 636 separate stocks (MPI, 2013a). Almost all major commercial species are now included in the QMS (MoF, 2008).

Each year the Minister of Fisheries sets the Total Allowable Catch (TAC) for each fish stock. The TAC is the total amount (in tones) of fish that can be caught by fishers each year (MPI, 2013c). The TAC is set using research on the likes of the size of the fish, the number of fish in each fishery and the needs of the different groups who want to fish (MPI, 2013c). The TAC is based on scientific advice on the Maximum Sustainable Yield (MSY) of a fish stock, as fisheries legislation requires individual dish stocks to be maintained at or above a level capable of producing MSY (Kearney, 2001). The MSY reflects the greatest yield that can be achieved over time while maintaining a stock's productive capacity. It gives regard to population dynamics of the stock and any environmental factors which may influence the stock (MPI, 2013a).

Once set the TAC is then allocated to the recreational and customary sectors, as well as an allowance being made for any other fishing related mortality of the stock. Non-commercial fishers don't have a set quota, instead, the recreational and customary sectors share of the TAC is allocated as a loosely defined allowance (Kearney, 2001). The remainder of the TAC is allocated to the commercial sector as Total Allowable Commercial Catch (TACC). TACC is the total quantity of each fish stock that the commercial fishing industry can catch for that year (MPI, 2013a). Once the TACC is set fishing rights are distributed to quota owners through the QMS. Quota is the property right of a stock which is represented as shares that may be bought and sold (MPI, 2013a). These quota shares tell fishing companies what percentage of the TACC they can fish for and determine what the companies Annual Catch Entitlement (ACE) will be (MPI, 2013c). ACE is the catching right generated each year from quota (MPI, 2013a).

Monitoring of commercial catches and quota holdings occurs through a dual reporting system, under which fishers and fish purchasers are required to fill out forms matching catches to fish permits (Sanchirico et al., 2006).

Significance of Sustainable Fishing


Figure 3: Ecological Rankings of New Zealand Fish (Forest & Bird, 2013)

The Marine Stewardship Council (2010) creates a global standard for sustainable fisheries around the world. It highlights the principles and thresholds in which it regards fisheries to be ecologically sustainable:

  • Fisheries should be able to able to exhibit healthy populations of target fish species
  • Maintain the integrity of the ecosystems in which it is working
  • Develop and maintain effective fisheries management systems, taking into account relevant biological, technological, economic, social, environmental and commercial aspects of these
  • Maintain and seek to maximise ecological health and abundance within the ecosystem
  • Maintain the diversity, structure and function of the ecosystem on which it depends as well as the quality of its habitat, minimising the adverse effects that it causes
  • Manage and operate in a responsible manner, in conformity with local, national and international laws and regulations
  • Maintain present and future economic and social options and benefits of the ecosystem
  • Be conducted in a socially and economically fair and responsible manner

Forest and Bird also issues a 'Best Fish Guide' every year (Figure 3), which assesses the sustainability of New Zealand's wild-caught fisheries. The assessment of these fisheries is based on six criteria, high weighting is given to status and sustainability of catch and the amount of captures of globally threatened or protected species. Medium weighting is given to the fishing method and impact used, the fish specie's biology and vulnerability to over-fishing, and whether the management regime is appropriate to the fished species, with low weighting given to management effectiveness and information levels.


Our marine area is also a vital part of our economy, supporting our $1.5 billion fishing industry and to some extent our $20 billion tourism industry (Forest & Bird, 2012). If our fish stocks are not managed in a sustainable manner then the value of the fishing industry could drop significantly.


Fishing and the oceans are a strong part of our national identity: most New Zealanders live near the ocean and have a close relationship with the marine environment (Fish & Game, 2012). We collect shellfish, fish in the surf, fish off the wharf, and go out fishing in our boats. Recreational fishing is a part of over 1 million New Zealanders lives (MoF, 2008). Fishing is also an important part of Maori culture and heritage. Maori were the first settlers and first fishers in New Zealand, relying largely on fish and shellfish for protein (Te Ara Encyclopedia, 2013). To enable fishing to continue to have an important role in the lives of New Zealanders, and to be part of future generations lives, our fish stocks need to be managed in a sustainable manner to prevent them being overfished and collapsing.

Main Indicators Available


Figure 4: Changes in the value of New Zealand's fishing assets from 1996-2009 (Mf E, 2010)

Commercial fishing is one of the main pressures on New Zealand's fisheries. New Zealand's fishing industry contributes a large proportion to its net capital profit. As a result a large amount of marine life is harvested to meet the increasing economic demand. Indicators of the pressure which commercial fishing exerts on fish stocks include:

  • The asset value of NZ's fish stocks
  • The size of the commercial catch

From 1996 to present the value of New Zealand's fishing assets has slowly risen from $2.7 billion to $4 billion (Figure 4). This is a measure of how much the fish stocks are valued by the fishing industry.

Between the years 1990-2009 the total commercial catch peaked in 1998, with just under 650,000 tonnes of fish being removed from the sea that year (Figure 5) (Ministry for the Environment, 2010). From 1998 until present the amount of fish harvested from the sea each year has been on the decline, with 425,000 tonnes of fish caught commercially in 2009. This is due to the changes in abundance and locality of many fish species who have had their population reduced from overfishing and other environmental pressures (Ministry for the Environment, 2010). The problem exists in the overfishing of fish that are highly demanded in the markets. Overfishing to meet the high demand also means crucial population members such as juveniles and egg-bearing females are removed from the population (Department of Conservation, 2013). As a result fishing stocks have been depleted and reduced to dangerously unsustainable levels.

Figure 5: Changes in total volume (tonnes) of fish caught commercially from the years 1990-2009 (MfE, 2010)

New Zealand's fisheries are also under pressure from recreational fishing. With a growing population demand for fish and seafood has increased (Ministry of Fisheries, 2006). There are very few indicators of the pressures placed on our fisheries by recreational fishers as it hard to gather reliable data.


Assessing the state of New Zealand's fish stocks is important as these assessments are one of the key information sources used by scientists and the Ministry of Primary Industries when reviewing catch limits for species subject to the QMS (Ministry for the Environment (MfE), 2010). These assessments are also used to find out how fish populations have been affected in the past and what effects different management decisions are likely to have on future yields (NIWA, 2013).

The main tool used to measure the status of fish stocks is Spawning Stock Biomass compared to the Initial Biomass (B0) as a percentage (NIWA, 2013). Spawning stock biomass is the total mass of breeding-age fish in the population in any year and the initial biomass is an estimate of the fish population for that species before fishing began or the population it would eventually return to if fishing was halted (NIWA, 2013). There are three key indicators of stock status which use this tool. They are the spawning stock biomass compared to a management target, assessment of stock status relative to soft and hard limits and whether or not there is overfishing of a fish stock.

Figure 6: Stock status for fish stocks assessed relative to management targets 2006-2010 (MfE, 2010)

1. Status of Stock Compared to Management Target

The spawning stock biomass as a percentage of initial biomass is compared to a set management target. Fisheries can safely operate around a target range of 30-45% of initial biomass (NIWA, 2013). So the management target for each species is generally set around this range, the actual target depends on the species and the stock (NIWA, 2013).

A fish stock is classified as:

  • At or above target levels - meaning that the status of the fish stock is at or above the biomass needed to produce the maximum sustainable yield (MSY).
  • Below target levels - meaning that the fish stock is below the biomass needed to produce (MSY) (MfE, 2010).
    Figure 7: Stock status for fish stocks assessed relative to soft (A) and hard (B) limits 2009-2012 (MPI, 2012).

Figure 6 shows the percentage of total fish stocks in New Zealand which are either at or above target levels, or below target levels. From 2006 to 2010 the percentage of stocks below the target level doubled from 15% in 2006 to 31% in 2010. 69% of stocks were a or above the target level in 2010.

2. Status of Stock Relative to Soft and Hard Limits

In addition to comparison with the target, fisheries are also assessed in terms of the risk of the stock being below some limit (NIWA, 2013). The stock is assessed relative to a soft limit and a hard limit. If a stock has a biomass level below 20%B0 it is overfished and depleted. If a stock has a biomass level below 10%B0 then it is deemed to be collapsed and has a risk of not recovering.

A fish stock may be classified as:

  • Depleted / Below the Soft Limit (20%) -it means the biomass level of a stock is deemed to be depleted and needs to be actively rebuilt. The soft limit should act as a trigger for a formal rebuilding plan (MfE, 2010).
  • Collapsed / Below the Hard Limit (10%) - the biomass level below which a stock is deemed to be collapsed. It is a point at which managers should consider closing a fishery (NIWA, 2013).
The percentage of total fish stocks assessed which were below these limits can be seen in Figure 7. The percentage of fish below the hard limit has stayed fairly constant between 2009 and 2012, with a bit more variability in the percentage of stock under the soft limit.
Figure 8: Percentage of fish stocks assessed classified as being overfished or not 2009-2012 (MPI, 2012)

3. Overfishing

Another indicator used to assess the state of fish stocks is whether or not 'overfishing' is occurring. Overfishing is said to be occurring when the rate at which fish are extracted exceeds the rate associated with the maximum sustainable yield (MfE, 2010). If the overfishing threshold is exceeded it will lead to the stock biomass declining below management targets or limits (MPI, 2012).

The percentage of fish stock being overfished has declined from25% in 2009 to 18.3% in 2012 (Figure 8).


Precautionary Principle

The Precautionary principle is a method used in a number of environmental management regulations to ensure that action is taken to prevent harm to the environment in a case of scientific uncertainty. In other words, if an action or policy has a suspected risk of causing harm to the environment, in the absence of scientific consensus that the action or policy is harmful, then the person who wants to take the action must show that it is not harmful. Section 10 of the Fisheries Act seems to encompass the precautionary principle however on closer look it is weakened by a number of sub sections. Section 10 states Decisions in relation to the utilisation of fisheries resource (such as the setting of TAC) or in ensuring sustainability (such as proposing controls of fishing equipment) all must take into account the requirements of section 10 of the Fisheries Act these are that;

-Decisions should be based on the best available information.

-Decision makers should consider any uncertainty in the information in any case and be cautious when information is uncertain, unreliable or inadequate.

-The absence of, or any uncertainty in, any information should not be used as a reason for postponing or failing to take measures to achieve the purpose of the Fisheries Act.

While it is good that decision makers are making thorough decisions, often there will be uncertainty in information as research is often commissioned by fishing companies.

Stock Assessment Process

Figure 9: Illustrative example of a harvest strategy control rule that would be in similar to a Harvest Strategy Standard. The graph illustrates the control rule application for a fishing mortality based strategy. (Ministry of Fisheries,2007)

The way that stock is assessed is important when thinking about the limitations of the precautionary principle in the Fisheries Act. A number of science working groups meet to evaluate research and to contribute to the assessment of the health and the size of the fish stocks (EDS, 2010). Working groups prepare reports and provide advice to the Ministry of Fisheries Chief Scientist. This role is merely advisory. Working groups are open to interested parties and will usually include representatives from the fishing industry and from environmental groups. Groups can collect information on a number of different topics for example; making projections of stick size under alternative management scenarios or focusing on the environmental effects of fishing activity. Each working group prepares a report, which includes information on fishing interests in stock, sustainability issues and estimates of stock size (EDS,2010) these reports are then incorporated into a fisheries assessment plenary report which is published by the Ministry of Fisheries.

Every years the Minister for Fisheries reviews a small number of fish stocks and makes an assessment on whether to change the management measures in place (EDS,2010). Currently there is two reviews a year. In the Ministers assessment of fish stocks the Ministry releases an initial position paper for each fish stock, and then requests submissions to be made from interest groups. One the submission period finishes the Ministry reviews the submissions and makes a final decision on methods to put in place.

There are a number of sustainability measures that can be used to reduce the pressure of over fishing. These include sustainability measures, fisheries plans, TAC reduction and environmental strategies and standards.

Sustainability Measures

Sustainability measures are methods that can relate to the species of fish or the area being fished. They can include placing controls on the TAC; sex, size, state of the fish; areas, methods; or seasons. (s11 Fisheries Act). An example of this is restricting the use of set netting during breeding season.

Before sustainability measures can be set the minister must take into account the effects of fishing on the stock, the aquatic environment, existing controls and the natural variability of the stock.

Fisheries Plans

Figure 10 . Illustrative example of a harvest strategy control rule that would be in similar to a Harvest Strategy Standard. The graph illustrates the control rule application for a fishing mortality based strategy. (Ministry of Fisheries,2007)

Fisheries Plans are intended provide a short term – medium strategic approach to fisheries management (EDS,2010). Fisheries plans can relate to fish stocks, fishing years and/or areas (s11A Fisheries Act 1996). They may include objectives, strategies, rules, performance criteria and conservation services (EDS,2010). Conservation services are outputs produced in relation to the adverse effects of fishing on the environment, these are produced by the department of conservation. Each of these methods are prepared within the overriding purpose of the Act which is “to provide for the utilisation of fisheries while ensuring sustainability” (s 8(1)).

It is possible for interested parties to draft fisheries plans, however they must be approved by the Minister before they have legal effect (EDS,2010).

Environmental Strategies and Standards

The Ministry of Fisheries has prepared a Strategy for Managing Environmental Effects of Fishing to provide policies through which the Ministry and the Minister of Fisheries can meet its environmental obligations under the Fisheries Act (EDS, 2010). This is generally achieved through a core set of standards, which specify the limits of acceptable effects of fishing on the aquatic environment. These strategies and standards have no legal force, but are a useful guide to decision making under the Fisheries Act.

The Harvest Strategy Standard was released in October 2008 and provides guidance on the setting of the target sizes for fish stocks. It contains three main elements:

-A specified target about which a fishery or stock should fluctuate

-A soft limit that triggers the requirement for a formal, time-constrained rebuilding plan. The default soft limit is the higher of one half or B(MSY) or 20 per cent of the estimates virgin biomass of the stock.

-A hard limit is below which fisheries should be considered for closure. The default hard limit is one quarter B(MSY) or 10 per cent of the estimated virgin biomass of the stock.

Case Study 1: Orange Roughy (Hoplostethus alanticus)

Figure 11: Orange Roughy (Amalgamated Marketing, 2013)

Orange Roughy (Figure 11) is a slow growing fish that can live up to 130 years. It is found in deep waters of 75 to 1,500 metres around New Zealand with the most substantial population and fishery being on the Chatam Rise.

Orange Roughy mature late, between 25 and 35 years of age, and grow to around 50 centimetres long, with an average weight of 3.5 kilograms (Sustainable New Zealand Seafood, 2013). Scientists have little data on the early life stages of orange roughy, specifically their larvae, juvenile fish and recruitment (age at which juveniles join the fishable adult population) (Greenpeace, 2013).

New Zealand fisheries have dominated global catches of orange roughy, with orange roughy being the fourth most valuable fish species in New Zealand (Francis & Clark, 2005).


Three main factors affect sustainability of orange roughy fisheries, these are the species low productivity, its ease of capture, and high value on the market (Francis & Clark, 2005). This causes the species to be highly susceptible and vulnerable to overfishing, a consequence which will take hundreds of years to recover from (Clark, 2001).

Another risk to the fishery is the destruction of the orange roughy (and other species) habitats caused by bottom trawl gear used in orange roughy fishing (Francis & Clark, 2005). Adult fish still tend to aggregate around these areas after they have been damaged, however it is unknown as to whether the loss of the ecosystem effects the survival of younger fish (Francis & Clark, 2005).

Figure 12: Orange roughy stock areas (Ministry for Primary Industries 2013a)

State of the Orange Roughy Fishery

Orange roughy has jointly with the porbeagle shark, the lowest ecological ranking in the Best Fish Guide for New Zealand. It is estimated that most orange roughy populations are now below 20 percent of their un-fished populations, with some populations reduced to just 3 percent of their original size (Forest & Bird, 2013). All of the stocks have been overfished with less than 30 percent of their populations remaining and three stocks have been fished to collapse and since closed.

Figure 13: Historical landings and TACC for ORH38 stock (Ministry for Primary Industries(2013e)

Orange roughy became even easier to catch after 1991, when accurate position fixing via GPS became used widely, enabling fishers to move to very precisely targeted tows near the tops of pinnacles where fish aggregate (Francis & Clark, 2005). Stock assessment models suggest that population sizes in areas such as Challenger Plateu, East Coast and the Chatam Rise should be increasing slowly, however there is still considerable uncertainty in stock assessments, because it is difficult to get reliable biomass measurements for orange roughy, and the species product parameters are not well known (Clark, 2001). This problem is further exacerbated by the fact that decreasing stock and catch levels have caused a decrease in financial support for research efforts (Clark, 2001). Despite these problems, a new spawning plume was discovered in 2011 in the Chatam Rise area, which significantly increased biomass numbers of orange roughy in this stock area (Ministry for Primary Industries, 2013b).

Responses from Government and fishing industry

The main orange roughy fisheries are handled separately for assessment and management purposes and can be seen in Figure 12. The different stocks are split up into the regions of the Northern North Island (ORH 1) with a current total allowable catch (TAC) of 1400t. Cape Runaway to Banks Peninsula (ORH 2A, 2B, & 3A) with current TACs of 1100t, 185t, and 415t respectively. Chatham Rise and Puysegur (ORH 3B) with a current TAC of 3, 780t. Challenger Plateau (ORH 7A) which was closed for some time and has now reopened with a current TAC of 525t and the West coast of the South Island (ORH 7B), which remains closed (Ministry for Primary Industries 2013a)

The size of the orange roughy fishery was relatively stable in the 1980s, with significant reductions in TAC quotas in the 1990s when it was realised that the main stocks were becoming fully or over-exploited (Clark, 2001). Recent years have seen significantly reduced catch levels in the most established fisheries, with some closures; however, there has been some compensation with increased prices, so the value of the fishery has remained at around 60 percent of peak levels (Clark, 2001). In 2007, the New Zealand government reduced catch limits of orange roughy by 28 percent in an effort to tackle ongoing fish decline (Wild, 2008).

The Orange Roughy Management Company (ORMC) is jointly owned by orange roughy quota holders. The company pledges support for the quota management system and presents a business case for sustainability. The company has persistently resisted further quota cuts or closures of marine areas to bottom trawling practices despite these sustainable business claims (Wild, 2008).

The Chatam Rise (ORH 3B) is the most established New Zealand fishery, catch levels in the 1980s were around 25, 000t per year, however this has since been reduced to 3, 780t in 2013. According to latest recommendations by the Ministry for Primary Industries, the TAC for the Chatam Rise area looks set to increase by 25 percent from 3, 780t to 4, 725t for the 2013/14 fishing year. This is partly due to the recent discovery of the new spawning plume (Ministry for Primary Industries, 2013f). Other stocks of orange roughy look set to remain at their current TAC level. Fig 13 shows historical catches of orange roughy and catch limits in the ORH 3B area.

Case Study 2: Snapper (Pagrus auratus)

General Information

Figure 14: A snapper (Seafood NZ, 2013)
Figure 15: Map showing abundance of snapper species. Darker red shows area where there is greater presence of species (NIWA, 2013)

[Figure 14: Snapper (Seafood NZ, 2013)]

Snapper (Figure 14) is a slow growing, long-lived (up to 60 years) species. They extend over a wide variety of habitats, including reefs as well as sand and mud bottoms (Forest & Bird, 2012). Snapper is an inshore fishery with the fish being most abundant in depths of 15-60m (MPI, 2013d). Snapper is mainly found in the warmer coastal waters of the northern North Island on both the northeast and northwest coasts, but does range down to the upper South Island (Forest & Bird, 2012) (FIG B). Snapper is one of many species which was overfished around New Zealand in the 1960s and 1970s, with rebuilding of these stocks being slow (MoF, 2006).

Snapper is one of the largest and most valuable coastal fisheries in New Zealand and is important to recreational, customary and commercial fishers (MoF, 2006). It is one of the most valuable inshore commercial fisheries and is the largest recreational fishery in New Zealand, and is the main target species for recreational fishers on the northern coasts of the North Island (Maunder and Starr, 2002; MPI, 2013d).

Figure 16: Total Snapper Catch in SNA1 between 1990 - 2012 (NIWA, 2013)

There are four major snapper management areas in New Zealand (FIG B):

  • SNA1 - East Northland/Hauraki Gulf/Bay of Plenty
  • SNA2 - East Coast North Island
  • SNA7 - Marlborough/Tasman
  • SNA8 - West Coast North Island (MoF, 2006)

The SNA1 and SNA8 areas, in the northern North Island, have the largest fish stocks as can be seen in Figure 15.

This case study is going to look at the SNA1 Snapper fishery, which produces the majority of the commercial snapper catch (Maunder and Starr, 2002) and is one of the most popular recreational fisheries in New Zealand, accounting for around 40% of New Zealand's total recreational snapper catch (MoF, 2006). The case study will have a particular focus on recreational fishing.

Pressures on the Snapper Species in SNA1

Recreational fishing in the SNA1 area is one of the key pressures, alongside commercial fishing, on this fish stock. The trend in the total catch of snapper in this area for all types of fishing can be seen in Figure 16.

Figure 17: Recreational catch histories for the three areas of SNA1 (Hauraki Gulf in red, East Northland in blue, and the Bay of Plenty in green) (MPI, 2013d)

Snapper is such a popular recreational species in SNA1 because it is the most abundant and easily caught finfish in the area (Maunder and Starr, 2002). With a growing population the number of people going fishing is increasing. The SNA1 area is situated next to Auckland, New Zealand's largest city, which places a large amount of pressure on the fishery. Also in the SNA1 area are the Coromandel and the Bay of Plenty, both popular weekend and holiday spots, and as such, areas where recreational fishing is highly concentrated (MoF, 2006).

Figure 17 shows the history of recreational snapper catches in SNA1 (MPI, 2013d).

Figure 18: Historic Snapper Biomass from 1900-2012 (NIWA, 2013)

State of Snapper in SNA1

The status of the SNA1 stock is measured by NIWA (2013) in a stock assessment using snapper 'spawning stock biomass', which is the estimated total weight of mature fish in the SNA1 fishery area (Figure 18). The width of the grey line shows the uncertainty in the estimate, which is based on over 100 years of catch and research data. The target level of spawning stock biomass (as a percentage of initial biomass (Bo)) is 40% for SNA1. The Biomass for snapper in SNA1 in 2012, was 24% Bo in East Northland and 19% Bo in the Hauraki Gulf and the Bay of Plenty combined. This means the fish stock is sitting around the 'soft limit' which is set at 20%Bo and means that the stock is deemed to be overfished or depleted and needs to be actively rebuilt (NIWA, 2013).

Management Response

Snapper has been part of the QMS since it was first introduced in 1986 (Forest & Bird, 2012). This means there are catch limits in place. The effect of this has been to reduce the number of catches of Snapper, particularly when compared to the overfishing periods of the 1960s and 1970s. Figure 19 shows the changes in commercial fish landings and changes in the TACC for the SNA1 area from 1931-2012. As can be seen the TACC hasn't been changed since the late 1990s.

Figure 19: Historical landings and TACC for SNA1 fishstock (MPI, 2013d)

Recreational fishing for snapper in the SNA1 area is managed by a range of rules, including setting how many fish a person can take each day and a minimum size limit (MoF, 2006). A minimum legal size (MLS) is a fisheries management tool which has the ability to protect juvenile fish, maintain spawning stocks and control the sizes of fish caught (Harley et al., 2000). Current requirements in the SNA1 area is a minimum size length of 27cm and a maximum daily limit of 9 per person (MPI, 2013c). Both the minimum legal size and the daily bag limit have been changed over time in an attempt to help fish stocks replenish (Table 1).

Table 1: Changes in recreational regulations in SNA1 (MPI, 2013c)

Case Study 3: Rock Lobster (Jasus edwardsii)

Figure 21: Crayfish areas each with their own TAC & TACC requirements. (Ministry for Primary Industries, 2012a)

Rock lobster2.jpg

[Figure 20: Rock Lobster ( Jasus edwardsii) (MPI, 2011)]

Figure 22: Annual changes to TAC in CRA-7 (Otago). (Ministry for Primary Industries, 2012a)
Figure 23: Measurement for determining minimum size of rock lobsters NZ- (Ministry for Primary Industries, 2011)

Rock lobster (Jasus edwardsii) is found New Zealand wide. They are crustaceans that are located in rocky coastal water reefs that are usually located at depths of 5-275m (Forest & Bird, 2012). Many of the stocks are overfished as they are a highly demanded item in the fisheries markets. As a result there exists size limits and season limits so females can spawn sufficient numbers to establish suffering populations.


Rock lobsters are generally fished via baited pots and cages however recreational fishers may also dive for them. Nine rock lobster fishing regions, each with their own regulations for size, TAC and TACC, exist within New Zealand and are named CRA 1-10 (Figure 21) (Carter, 2012). Recreational fishing is on the rise in New Zealand, as a result this conflicts with the interests of commercial fishers and puts greater pressure on the stocks of rock lobster. Marine Protected Areas also mean there is a decreased area where rock lobster may be harvested (Ministry for Primary industries, 2007). This means there is an ever-growing competition to acquire rock lobsters within New Zealand over a decreasing area that legally can be fished.

Rock lobsters have a high market demand value and as a result there exists a lucrative market for illegal trade of rock lobsters within New Zealand. Regions such as Otago (CRA-7) have had the TAC and recreational allowance for the region decreased in the past year to allow the stocks to rebuild (Figure 22) (Carter, 2012). Decreasing the Total Allowable Catch combined with the increasing demand for rock lobsters means that people will turn to alternate illegal methods. This can exist in the form of exceeding the Total Allowable Catch per person so that people can sell and meet the increasing demand for rock lobster. In addition people aiming to buy rock lobster at lower prices such as restaurants and fish shops engage in these illegal markets.


Current measures in place to reduce overfishing of rock lobster include individual quotas, minimum catch sizes and restrictions on the dimensions of cages and pots used for trapping. Rock lobster exports support a 240 million dollar industry every year, and if these controls are not in place it will result in the depletion of the population below unsustainable levels (Daryl Sykes, 2013). Each year the Ministry for Primary Industry releases a report summarizing the Total Allowable Catch, which includes customary allowance for Maori, recreational, catch, mortality from by catch and total allowable commercial catch. These reports are based on fishing statistics and economic trade within the rock lobster industry (Daryl Sykes, 2013). These figures tend to differ between the nine rock lobster areas and TAC of each of the areas changes independently of other areas.

In addition to this there are limits in place per individual fisher (8 per individual per day) and boat (8 per boat per day) to protect against over fishing. Traps must provide escape gaps measuring 54mm x 200mm to allow undersized juvenile rock lobsters to escape from the traps (Ministry for Primary Industries, 2011). Three escape gaps must be provided for round pots and two must be provided for square cages, not including the mouth of the trap. Finally minimum size restrictions are placed on individual catches so as to allow the next generation of rock lobster so that their population can successfully establish in the ecosystem and allow the rock lobster fishing industry to continue (Ministry for Primary Industries, 2011). Minimum size restrictions of rock lobsters in New Zealand are measured by the width of the secondary spine segment and are 54mm for males and 60mm for females (Figure 23).


Response of the fishing industry should aim to maintain rock lobster populations at a sustainable level so that the rock lobster industry can continue without altering the species population to drastically. This includes the continued use of Marine Protected Areas so that there are always protected populations that can spill over into fished areas. Restrictions, the continued monitoring and policing of fishing boats and the fisheries will ensure that populations in all areas of New Zealand are monitored and that these populations do not reach unsustainable levels (Ministry for Primary Industries, 2007). Currently study is being done at the Victoria University of Wellington in order to better understand the dynamics of rock lobster larvae in the hope to move towards rock lobster aquaculture industry in order to relieve the pressure on wild rock lobster populations (Scoop: Victoria University of Wellington, 2011).

Missing Indicators

One of the main missing indicators is on the pressure that the recreational fishing sector places of fish stocks. This is due to a lack of reliable data on the likes of:

  • the number of recreational fishermen
  • the motivation for fishing amongst different groups of recreational fishers
  • the size of recreational fish catches

There are also no official landing statistics of recreational catches and the Ministry has to use telephone, diary and boat-ramp surveys instead to monitor recreational fishers catches (Borch, 2010).

Inadequacy of Indicators

  • There are some problems with the indicators of the status of fish stocks. The main problem is that it is difficult to evaluate the status of fish stocks due to the vast areas of oceans involved and the migratory nature of some species (MfE, 2010). The information available on known stock statuses, as of 2010, was only sufficient enough to represent about 20% of the QMS stocks. However, most of the main commercial species are represented and this 20% does account for 66% of total landings (MfE, 2010).

Evaluation of the Quota Management System

New Zealand has a world leading model for fisheries management. This model has been adapted in many other countries for fisheries management and also the management of other natural resources. In saying this there are a number of improvements that could ensure sustainability and the greater protection of our fisheries. These include;

- Quantifying the amount taken by the recreational fisher.

- Monopolisation of the quota system and the subsequent political influence.

- Problems with predicting the MSY.

- Allocation between commercial, recreational and customary catch.

- Uncertainty in the setting of quota

- Single Species Approach

Quantifying Recreational Fishing

Incorporating the interests of recreational fishers is one of the largest challenges to policy making in the fishing industry (Batstone and Sharp, 1999). Recreational catch is regulated by bag limits, fish size , closed areas and other restrictions. It is estimated that there are at least 40,000 recreational fishers (Batstone and Sharp, 1999). This side of fisheries is incredibly hard to monitor as the ratio between fishers and enforcement officers is large and also the ratio between coastline and enforcement officers is larger. There is a great amount of uncertainty as to the total amount of catch that is brought in by recreational fishers as there is no register for this. It has been suggested that the QMS could be extended to recreational fishing, so that numeric data can be accurately recorded (Batstone and Sharp, 1999).

Monopolisation of the Fishing Industry

Market monopoly is a very real concern as seen in the fishing quota management system. Most of the quota has ended up in being split between a few large companies (Sinner and Fenemor, 2005). For various reasons many of the small scale fishers who received an individual transferable quota at the initial allocation sold their quota to the few remaining large enterprises (Sinner and Fenemor, 2005). As a result of market monopoly the fishing industry has become exceedingly wealthy and a powerful voice in the political arena. Fishing representatives often lobby for increases in the total allowable catch (TAC) and provide immense pressure when there is political discussion that the TAC may be decreased despite scientific evidence indicating that it is necessary (Wallace, 1999). The industry tends to focus on the commercial value of fisheries as opposed to the environmental concerns.

Problems with predicting the MSY

The maximum sustainable yield is difficult to measure as it is not a direct measure but rather an estimation of how certain fish stocks relate to pressure. This estimation presents a number of different concerns that need to be addressed including the age at which fish meet their sexual maturity, the time of year that fish spawn and the migratory habits of fish. There is a lot of uncertainty in this information, which leads to a lot of resistance when TAC is altered (Sinner and Fenemor, 2005).

Allocation between Recreational, Customary and Commercial Catch

The allocation of proportions to different sectors of fisheries is problematic. Before TAC is set portions are delegated to customary fishing, recreational fishing and the remainder is for the commercial sector as total allowable commercial catch (Bess, 2005). The Ministry of Fisheries prioritise which sector receives the first allocation, the current policy requires the customary catch allowance to be made first. The allowance of customary catch cannot restrict customary practise in any way, thus is likely to be a substantial allocation (Bess, 2005). Legislation does not identify the priority between commercial and recreational fishing, it is at the discretion of the Minster of Fisheries. This is also were the previous problem about quantifying the recreational allocation becomes important. If the Minister underestimates the actual take of recreational fishers then this is likely to not be covered by the sustainability buffer and may cause species depletion.

Uncertainty with setting quota

Total allowable catches (TACs) can be defined as "short-term decision making tools". The government must follow legislative directions in the setting of TACs (particularly mandating the biomass maximum sustainable yield (BMSY) as a target) however, these directions have not been followed. There is no agreed method for calculating the TAC that will allow stock to rebuild at an acceptable rate, nor is there policy that constitutes an acceptable rate of rebuilding for a particular stock. Instead, TAC decisions seem to stand alone, based on advice from officials and input from stakeholders (Francis & Clark, 2005). An alternative, more long-term scenario in which an agreed rebuild rate for depleted stock, and an agreed procedure for calculating the TAC expected to produce that rate, may provide better outcomes for fish stock regeneration (Francis & Clark, 2005).

Single Species Approach

One of the main environmental criticisms of the QMS is that is fails to regard the overall wellbeing of the marine ecosystem or the thousands of species that are excluded from the QMS. Scientists have expressed their concern in the fact that there is possibly tens of thousands of aquatic species that we are yet to discover and so have no full understanding of the impacts of the fishing industry. Fishing techniques such as bottom trawling and dredging are known to be destructive to seabed habitat yet are still permitted in New Zealand (EDS,2010). The system species focus also fails to recognise the effects of by catch that results in a number of marine species deaths (EDS, 2010). It is argued that the QMS is not holistic enough to provide for the sustainable protection of the marine environment.


There are a fair number of indicators already publicly available to measure the pressure, state and response of fish stocks in New Zealand. One of the main weaknesses is the measurement of the number of recreational fishers and in particular how much they are catching. It is hard and costly to get reliable data on the recreational sector due to the widespread nature of recreational fishers, and so there is not a lot that can be done without significant cost involved. There are good indicators on the pressure which commercial fishing exerts on fish stocks and the Indicators of the state of our fish stocks are also good, and will improve as science advances.

The Quota Management System is world leading model for fisheries management which has definitely improved the way our fishing industry is managed. It has stopped the overfishing which occurred throughout the 1960s and 1970s. One question is whether or not the TAC and TACC are set at the right limits and if they are too high. This relates to the problem of predicting the MSY and it will be hard to know just how accurate this level is until there are further advances in the measurement of MSY and the status of fish stocks. Also of concern is that most of the quota is split between a few companies, and so there is potential for monopolisation of the market. Overall, the QMS is a good system, which with a few improvements could become a very successful way to manage our fisheries.


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