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Plan Released To Restore Fish Stocks And Revitalise New Zealand’s Commercial Fishing Sector

Underwater Reef

Sweeping changes proposed to Fisheries policy to benefit future generations and pump much needed cash into the regions

Restoring abundance to New Zealand’s coastal fisheries and stimulating regional economies are two objectives of the ‘Rescue Fish’ policy reform launched today by public awareness group LegaSea and the New Zealand Sport Fishing Council. The groups say change is needed urgently to address fish depletion and biodiversity loss.

LegaSea spokesperson Sam Woolford says the Rescue Fish policy seeks to ensure the supply of kai moana for future generations of Kiwis while providing much needed income and jobs for regional New Zealanders.

The reform challenges several elements of the government’s existing fishery policy; a policy that has allowed New Zealand’s coastal fisheries to decline over the past 30 years, some to crisis levels.

“The Rescue Fish policy is an alternative to the current Quota Management System (QMS), which has failed in its intended purpose. Quota is now largely owned by a handful of corporate entities, while returns have been minimised for those doing the fishing. Consequently, commercial fishing has been reduced to using low cost bulk harvesting methods, and regional communities have lost their ability to survive,” says Mr Woolford.

“Simply put, Rescue Fish means more fish in the sea. After three decades of QMS depletion, our fisheries are in crisis. Change is needed to prioritise and protect our coastal fisheries.

“Without a healthy and abundant marine environment, commercial profits will continue to fall, Māori will continue to lose out both culturally and commercially, and amateur fishers will increasingly struggle to find kai moana in the places they normally fish.”

The New Zealand Sport Fishing Council President Bob Gutsell says the Council commissioned the New Zealand Institute of Economic Research (NZIER) to assess the current QMS and the proposed Rescue Fish policy alternative.

“NZIER concluded that the current regime has not produced the promised results. The incentives on individual fishers are not aligned to the stewardship of the sea. And after 30 years’ application of the QMS, some fisheries are under considerable pressure. Fishing is having clear impacts on other parts of the environment and bycatch is not resolved.

“NZIER went on to say that our proposal was worthy of further development and consideration by Ministers, Māori, all fishers, environmental NGOs, academics and the public, and ought to form the basis of further policy development,” says Mr Gutsell.

The Rescue Fish policy and recommendations have been developed over several years by a team of local and internationally renowned marine scientists, social science experts, economists and fisheries management specialists.

The recommendations presented to Government include:

  • The Crown to buy back all existing rights to fish at fair value 
  • A new independent Authority to be established to set catch limits based on independent scientific research 
  • Māori and the Crown to share governance 
  • A new Fisheries Act be established 
  • Catch limits to be reset at a lower level to ensure fish stocks can recover 
  • Fixed term commercial permits to be sold via a tender process 
  • Payment to the Crown will be a resource rental based on landed catch 
  • Industrial fishing techniques such as inshore bottom trawling and dredging to be banned 
  • Independent monitoring of commercial fishing to validate catches and protect vulnerable species. Monitoring systems and cameras to apply to all vessels.

“The focus of the Rescue Fish policy will be on encouraging smaller scale, artisanal commercial fishing to boost our Māori and regional economies,” says Mr Gutsell.

The Rescue Fish reform prioritises food security, recognising that many Kiwis depend on fishing to feed their families and recognises fish as a local, healthy and culturally valued food. LegaSea says there is overwhelming support for change by the public, who are alarmed at the state of New Zealand’s fisheries. That support is the impetus behind why the groups have developed the policy.

“We are presenting a holistic solution to address depleted fish stocks and biodiversity loss. The Government is looking for ways to stimulate regional economies and Rescue Fish policy reforms provide that, while also providing strong social and environmental benefits. Implementation of the new policy will make our marine environment more productive, for the benefit of all New Zealanders including those in the commercial fishing sector,” says Mr Woolford.

The Rescue Fish policy was presented to the Prime Minister, Ministers Davis, Robertson, Parker and Nash in April 2020. Public support is being sought through a petition and more information can be found on the Rescue Fish website.

Rescue Fish policy


About LegaSea and the New Zealand Sport Fishing Council

LegaSea is a not-for-profit organisation established by the New Zealand Sport Fishing Council in 2012. The Council has 55 member clubs with 36,200 affiliates. LegaSea’s core roles are to elevate public awareness of the issues affecting New Zealand’s marine environment and to inspire public support to effect positive change. Its primary mission is to restore New Zealand’s coastal fisheries. The New Zealand Sport Fishing Council advocates for the responsible and sustainable management of New Zealand’s marine resources. To achieve its goals the Council funds education initiatives, commissions and funds relevant research projects, participates and contributes to fisheries management decisions.


LegaSea has created a petition that encourages support for reforms to replace the Quota Management System, which will result in a ban of coastal trawling, the creation of a healthier marine environment, boosted regional economies and enhanced food security.

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