Part 1: Background

Ministry of Fisheries: Follow-up report on information requirements for the sustainable management of fisheries.


This is our second report about information requirements for the sustainable management of fisheries.

Our 1999 report2, Information requirements for the sustainable management of fisheries, followed a period when many of the world’s fisheries were in a state of crisis. The 1990s, for example, saw the collapse of most of Canada’s Atlantic commercial groundfish3 stocks.

The fisheries resource

New Zealand’s fisheries are a valuable natural and renewable resource, important to the social, cultural, and economic well-being of New Zealanders.

The 200-nautical mile exclusive economic zone (EEZ) within which our fishing industry operates was declared in 1978. At about 1.3 million square nautical miles, it is the fourth largest EEZ in the world.

The commercial seafood industry employs more than 26,000 people (10,000 directly), and is New Zealand’s fourth largest export earner. About 20% of the population participates in recreational fishing each year.

How are our fisheries managed?

The Fisheries Act 1996 (the Act) provides the framework for ensuring that New Zealand’s fisheries are managed on a sustainable basis, and sets out principles for the protection of the marine environment.

The Ministry of Fisheries is the Government agency responsible for administering the Act and advising the Minister of Fisheries (the Minister) on the management of fisheries. This includes oversight of the Quota Management System (QMS) that has operated since 1986. The QMS was introduced to manage fish stocks, and to ensure that catches were limited to levels that could be sustained over time.

Where possible, the QMS uses annual scientific estimates of the population of commercial fish species. Using this information, together with advice from the Ministry and data from the fishing industry, the Minister sets an annual total allowable catch limit for each fish stock (TAC), including a total allowable commercial catch (TACC). The TAC is designed to sustain fish stocks by moving them to a size at or above that which will produce the maximum sustainable yield (MSY).

Given the importance of the fisheries resource – and the unique involvement of the Crown in rationing it − Parliament needs to be assured that the arrangements for sustaining our fisheries are adequate.

Our 1999 report

In our 1999 report, we drew attention to some of the risks involved in the management of New Zealand’s fisheries. We questioned whether the Ministry had enough information to ensure that those fisheries were being managed in a sustainable way. A shortage of information could cause stocks to be over-fished, risking the survival of the stock; or under-fished, depriving the country of export income, employment opportunities, and tax revenue.

Our 1999 report made 7 recommendations. These were that the Ministry:

  • ensure that all information on the status of fish stocks clearly specifies the uncertainty in that information;
  • recognise and address the level of uncertainty of the status of fish stocks in its annual research and management documents;
  • ensure that information is collected that will allow fish stocks to be utilised to their potential (that is, maximum sustainable yield);
  • give greater priority to fulfilling the environmental requirements of the 1996 Act;
  • continue to work with the Ministry for the Environment (MfE) on the Environmental Performance Indicators Programme;
  • ensure that research funding does not overlap, and avoid duplication of research by continuing to work co-operatively with other research funders; and
  • recognise in its budgeting the research required to fulfil the environmental principles of the 1996 Act.

Our follow-up audit

Our follow-up audit assessed the extent to which the Ministry had acted on the 7 recommendations in our 1999 report.

We asked the Ministry to provide us with information on the progress it had made in implementing those recommendations. We reviewed its response, and have made 4 further recommendations because of this audit.

2: Parliamentary paper B.29[99e], pages 49-112.

3: Groundfish are species that, with a few exceptions, live on or near the bottom of the ocean.

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