Fisheries Info

  1. Exclusive Economic Zone: FAO81
  2. Sustainability
  3. The Quota Management System
  4. Surface (and midwater) longlining
  5. Bottom longlining


Prior to 1965, New Zealand only controlled fishing within a 3-mile coastal limit. In 1965, a 9-mile fishing zone outside the 3-mile territorial zone was established. Many foreign fishing boats fished outside this 12-mile limit and New Zealand had no control over the fish taken from these waters. During these times, the New Zealand industry focused on a largely inshore fishery fished from relatively small trawlers and other vessels.

Exclusive Economic Zone: FAo81

All Wildfish vessels fish within FAO81 The Exclusive Economic zone:

PACIFIC, SOUTHWEST (Major Fishing Area 81)


New Zealand’s 200 nautical mile Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) was created in 1978. Since then, the fishing industry has expanded to include harvesting mid and deep-water species from within this EEZ. Initially, this involved joint ventures with overseas companies experienced in this type of fishing, but now most boats are New Zealand owned.

New Zealand's 200 mile exclusive economic zone

Although New Zealand’s EEZ is the fourth largest in the world, covering 1.3 million square nautical miles equivalent to 2.2 million square kilometres, 65% percent of that is too deep (over 1000 meters) or closed to commercial fishing.

One third of the EEZ is closed forever to bottom trawling as Benthic Protection Areas.

All commercial fishing in the EEZ is monitored via satellite by the New Zealand Ministry of Fisheries.  This means that the government has a record of every trawl made in the EEZ.  Less than 10 per cent of the entire EEZ has ever been trawled.


By the early 1980s fishing pressure had reduced the size of a number of New Zealand’s major fisheries, particularly the inshore fisheries. Because of this, in 1986 New Zealand introduced the Quota Management System (QMS) with the aims of conserving major fisheries stocks and making the fishing industry more efficient.

QMS involves the industry and government agencies continually working together to assess stock levels of all quota-managed species. From these results, the Ministry of Fisheries sets a yearly Total Allowable Commercial Catch (TACC) for each species concerned.

There are now 96 species or species groups controlled by the quota system. The system covers most major fisheries within New Zealand’s EEZ, and will eventually cover all our commercially harvested species. For a full list of the species included in the QMS.

In July 2009 Dr Boris Worm and Prof Ray Hilborn, along with 19 marine and ecosystem scientists from around the world, released the results of their groundbreaking research and assessment of many of the world’s fisheries.

While the news wasn’t all good for global fisheries, the New Zealand fisheries assessed (such as hoki) received the highest possible rating for ecologically sustainable management.   In their media release, Prof Hilborn said that it was good news for several regions in the U.S., Iceland and New Zealand.

“These highly managed ecosystems are improving,” he said.

According to the authors’ analysis, Alaska and New Zealand have led the world in terms of management success by not waiting until drastic measures are needed to conserve, restore and rebuild marine resources.

The research shows that New Zealand is an area where eco-systems have never been overfished and are effectively managed for ecological sustainability.

The Quota Management System

The Quota Management System (QMS) lies behind New Zealand’s reputation as the world’s leader in sustainable fisheries management. It was introduced in 1986, with the aims of conserving major fisheries stocks and helping make the seafood industry more efficient.

Total Allowable Commercial Catch
Each year, scientists and industry work together to assess the population size of all major commercial fish species in their major fishing grounds. These areas are called Quota Management Areas (QMA’s).

Using the assessment data, the Minister of Fisheries then sets an annual Total Allowable Catch (TAC) limit for each QMA. The TAC is set conservatively, so that enough fish remain to maintain breeding future populations.

In fisheries where non-commercial users are involved (e.g. customary Maori or recreational fishers), a quantity of stock is set aside for them before the commercial catch (TACC) is set.

The TACC is set in volume (e.g. tonnes) allowed to be caught each year and can vary from year to year. It is divided into a number of Individual Transferable Quotas (ITQs), which are effectively rights to fish a defined portion of the TACC.

For the TACCs of the top ten commercial fish species, see their individual pages in Species.

Individual Transferable Quota

An Individual Transferable Quota (ITQ) is the right to harvest a defined amount of a species (percentage by weight of the TACC) in a specified area during one fishing year. The quota rights can be transferred to another person or company through either sale or lease. For most quota-managed species the year runs from 1 October to 30 September.

If someone holds quota for 6% of the TACC for a particular species in an area, they hold the right to harvest 6% of that area’s TACC. However, the amount harvested will change each year – depending on what the year’s TACC volume is set at.

A monitoring process is set in place to ensure that actual landed catches are always matched against someone’s quota. Therefore, a species’ TACC can not be exceeded.

When a species is first brought under the Quota Management System, Maori are given 20% of the total quota. The remainder is distributed amongst those people who hold commercial fishing permits for that species – based on how much they caught over previous years.

Quota is an asset and can be sold, leased or given away just like a piece of land. Its value depends on the market value of the species, the TACC and demand for that particular quota. Most quota trading is by personal contacts and advertisements in daily papers and in the seafood trade magazines. There are also a number of well-established quota broking companies.

All quota trades must be registered with FishServe, who provide registry services to the New Zealand commercial fishing industry for the Quota Management System. The Fisheries Act limits how much quota any one person or company can own – so that that no one company or individual can develop a monopoly on fishing in any one area or for any one species. These aggregation limits are set by the Minister of Fisheries, in consultation with the New Zealand Fishing Industry Board, and other industry representatives.

Aggregation limits for the main commercial species of alfonsino, barracouta, blue warehou, gemfish, hake, hoki, jack mackerel, ling, orange roughy, oreo dory, packhorse lobster, red cod, silver warehou and squid, are set at 45% of Quota in each QMA.

Aggregation limits for rock lobster are 10% of a QMA. The aggregation limit for bluenose is 20% of the total TACC. All other fish under the QMS have aggregation limits of 20%.


Longlining is an ancient fishing technique used in many different fisheries all over the world. It is a passive method which involves luring the fish to take a baited hook. The term longline derives from the long main line to which are attached numerous branchlines – snoods – each of which has a hook tied to it which catches the fish.The hook is tied to a branchline (snood) mounted with numerous other branchlines on a long main line, hence the name.Longlines can be deployed anywhere in the water column – the surface, the mid-water or the bottom – to catch a wide range of species. However, the longline is mainly used to catch larger, high-value species of finfish.Although the method is rather primitive, a certain level of mechanisation and automation has occurred in many industrialised fisheries. There are special haulers for the main line, arrangements for taking off, mounting and storing the branch lines, arrangements for baiting the hooks, removing fish off and cleaning the hooks from used bait, and so on.

The bait used is often a different species of fish or squid, and the bait normally has to be very fresh in order to attract the catch. Therefore, bait is often a substantial part of the running expenses of a longlining operation.

There have been several attempts to develop artificial bait for longlining. However, there has so far been little success in producing a cost-effective bait recipe, and a media which can carry the smell for a long time while looking attractive and being fastenable to the hook. In some cases small chemical light flares have provided some success in night fishing.

There are two main varieties of long lining used in New Zealand – surface longlining and bottom longlining.

 Surface (and midwater) longlining

A surface longlines consists of a main line that can be many kilometres long, supported in the water by a series of floats; the surface long line is not anchored to the seabed.

Attached to this main line are branch lines that are each up to 50-75 metres long. Every branch line carries a baited hook, and there can be up to 3000 hooks on a longline.

The line is set as the boat moves forward, at a speed of five to seven knots, with setting taking from two to six hours. Once the line is fully extended, it is then hauled in. Hauling is done at a slower speed, depending on the amount of catch, and the whole process can take up to 12 hours.

When longlines are used close to the water surface, they are set to target large schooling and migrating species such as tuna and bonito, amongst others. These species are normally found in the upper layers of the water and branch lines of up to 50-75 metres are therefore deployed in the upper 100 metres of water by hanging the main line in big bights between buoys. The distance between the branch lines is 10-50 metres.

Bottom longlining

Bottom longlines are similar in concept to surface longlines but are significantly shorter in length. The line is anchored on one or both ends and is often left on the bottom for a period of time, while other lengths of lines are set at different locations.At one end of the line is an anchor which is dropped to the sea floor. The other end has a weight attached. Depending on the length of the line a series of hauling lines are attached that come to the surface and are marked with buoys. The line is then set from a moving boat, and left for between six and 12 hours, before being hauled in using the surface lines.

When a longline is deployed on the seabed it is targeting different species – whitefish, flatfish, sharks, and skates. Bottom longlines are also used to catch ling and snapper.

The branch lines are much shorter – 1-3 metres – and are mounted more closely together on the main line: the branch lines are usually 1-3 metres apart.

Longlining is not a method to be used for catching large quantities of fish which means that it is more often used to catch high-value species and larger fish.

To do this, it is crucial for the fishers to find a fishing ground where the big fish occur. In addition, some size selectivity can be achieved using different sizes of hooks and bait. Recent investigations into the shape of the hook have also revealed that efficiency can be improved by selecting the right shape for a certain fishery.

When the fish takes the bait underwater, observations have shown that after a short struggle the fish calm down and remain calm until the line is hauled. The result is that fish caught with a longline is regarded as having the very best quality, with no damage or deterioration caused by the fishing gear. Longlining has very little impact on the environment, and the vessels do not consume a lot of energy while operating longlines.


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