Fishing is a very important industry in New Zealand, and we have one of the largest territorial waters in the world. This timeline provides a look at some of the historical aspects of fisheries in New Zealand.

Pre-1800s - Polynesian and Māori settlements

Fish and shellfish are an important food source for early Polynesian and Māori settlements. Bones and shells found in middens throughout the country are evidence of this early use of the coastal environment for food.

1800s - European settlers arrive

European settlers initially rely on pigs, sheep and cattle as well as imported cured, salted and canned fish for food. They name many New Zealand coastal fish species after those at home, such as cod and herring.

Late 1800s - First fishing settlements

European immigrants establish fishing settlements in New Zealand, and targeted species include blue cod, snapper and crayfish. Refrigeration is not yet available so the fishers rely on curing and smoking to preserve their catch.

1877 - Fish Protection Act

The first legislative attempt to regulate fisheries and restrict net mesh sizes in New Zealand.

1890 - Frozen fish

The first load of frozen fish is exported to Sydney by ship.

1890 - Collapse of early oyster fishery

Oysters are a successful early export and shipped overseas in their millions. By 1890, the fishery has been overexploited and suffers a collapse.

Early 1900s - Introduction of trawling

Trawling (where a net is dragged along the sea floor) is introduced, but until the 1950s, fishing in New Zealand remains dominated by small owner-operated vessels, using small lines and set nets, supplying local needs.

1930 - Changes due to refrigeration

Improvements in refrigeration sees growth of the export industry. For the first time, fishing becomes a licensed activity and the government restricts the number of vessels.

Late 1950s - Arrival of foreign vessels

At this stage, New Zealand’s territorial waters extend to only 3 nautical miles offshore. Large foreign vessels start to exploit New Zealand’s fish stocks.

Late 1960s - Marine aquaculture starts

Mussels are the first trial species, grown on ropes suspended from rafts in the Hauraki Gulf and the Marlborough Sounds.

1960s–1970s - Increased export industry

The fisheries export industry continues to grow in New Zealand. The major companies are Sanford, Sealord and Wattie’s, and shellfish and crayfish dominate the exports.

1970s - Fishing industry expands

The territorial waters around New Zealand are extended from 3 to 12 miles. Combined with new technologies and larger fishing vessels, this boosts the fishing industry.

1973 - United Nations Conference

The Third United Nations Conference on the Law of the Sea establishes exclusive economic zones (EEZ) for the waters around each coastal nation. The zone extends 200 miles offshore. New Zealand has the fourth largest EEZ in the world.

1975 - Fish exports reach 14,000 tonnes

New Zealand’s fish exports are growing rapidly.

1977 - 1st marine reserve established

New Zealand’s first marine reserve is established at Cape Rodney – one of the first marine reserves in the world where fishing of all kinds is prohibited. Marine reserves provide a safe haven and nursery for marine life.

1981 - Fish exports reach 129,000 tonnes

New Zealand’s fish exports continue to expand.

1986 - Quota management system introduced

The QMS is based on a total allowable catch and allocates quotas to individuals and companies that permit them to harvest a set amount of a particular species. Quotas can be leased, bought, sold or transferred.

2000 - Total allowable catch

Total allowable catch in New Zealand waters is set at 672,000 tonnes.

2004 - Best Fish Guide published

The Royal Forest and Bird Protection Society (NZ) publishes the 1st version of the Best Fish Guide to help consumers to make more sustainable choices when purchasing seafood.

2004 - Marine biosecurity

Responsibility for marine biosecurity is moved to MAF. MAF aims to prevent the introduction of unwanted marine organisms that might threaten our fishing industry and marine ecosystems.

2004 - Te Ohu Kaimoana established

Te Ohu Kaimoana is established to oversee the settlement of all Māori commercial fishing assets. Approximately 50% of the assets are held centrally, and the rest are allocated directly to tribes based on coastline length and tribal populations.

2006 - Growth of aquaculture

Aquaculture now makes up about 20% of the total fisheries in New Zealand and is dominated by mussels, oysters and salmon. Aquaculture New Zealand is formed to represent the sector and promote growth.

2008 - Total allowable catch reduced

Total allowable catch in New Zealand waters set at 586,000 tonnes.

2009 - Fishing in New Zealand

Eight fishing companies control 80% of production, 2,200 individuals and companies own quota valued at $3.5 billion, and over 1,500 commercial fishing vessels are registered in New Zealand.

 

    Published 17 September 2009, Updated 29 April 2014