New Zealand’s Sustainable Quota Fishing Management System

Sustainable management

Seafood New Zealand Logo 001Before 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. During these times, the New Zealand industry was a largely inshore fishery with small trawlers and other vessels.

Exclusive Economic Zone

New Zealand Exclusive Economic Zone Map 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 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 and crewed.

Although New Zealand’s EEZ is the fourth largest in the world, covering 1.3 million square nautical miles equivalent to 4.4 million square kilometres, 65% percent of that is too deep or is closed to commercial fishing.  One third of the EEZ is closed forever to bottom trawling as Benthic Protection Areas. Less than 10 percent 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 aim of conserving major fisheries stocks and making the fishing industry more efficient.

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

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.

New Zealand Seafood Industry Sustainability Research

The New Zealand seafood industry’s commitment to sustaining New Zealand’s seafood resource is ongoing. We invest up to $20 million every year in research so that we know how best to:

  • harvest seafood in an environmentally sustainable way, and
  • minimise the impact of fishing and aquaculture on our natural environment.

Independent International Sustainability Research

In July 2009, Dr. Boris Worm and Professor 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 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.

Quota Management System (QMS)

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

Total Allowable Commercial Catch

Ministry for Primary Industry scientists and other stakeholders, including 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 (QMAs).  Using the assessment data, the Minister for Primary Industries 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 fish (e.g. customary Mãori 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 by commercial fishers 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 fish 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 ensures that actual landed catches are always matched against someone’s quota.

When a species is first brought under the Quota Management System, Mãori 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 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 Ministry for Primary Industries, in consultation with Seafood New Zealand and other industry representatives.

More detail on the QMS and how it works can be found on the Deepwater Group’s website. For detailed quota holdings information refer to the FishServe website. There may be a charge for some services.