Licensing of fishing boats was discontinued in New Zealand in 1963, along with some other regulations, and this opened up the fishery to new participants. However, many restrictions on fishing methods and fish size remained in force.
The tip of the iceberg?
In the late 1960s the fishing industry turned its attention to open-water schooling fish such as kahawai. A spotter plane surveying these fish off the Nelson coast had a surprising finding:
‘A geological survey explosion by an oil company was observed on 1.4.69. Prior to the explosion two shoals of “kahawai” were noted in the area; after the explosion a further 14 shoals came up to the surface …This incident gave rise to an important question: How much of the total fish population do the surface fish shoals represent?’ 1
From the mid-1960s to the mid-1970s there was increasing growth in exports dominated by shellfish and crayfish. Fishing companies such as Sanford in Auckland, Sealord Products in Nelson, and Watties in Gisborne became major players in the industry. Bigger steel boats replaced smaller, traditional wooden vessels, and onshore fish-processing plants were built. During the late 1970s the industry boomed, with rapid growth in fin-fish catches. Fish exports were only 14,000 tonnes in 1975; six years later, 129,000 tonnes were being exported. The exponential growth in the total catch could not be sustained, however, and it crashed in the 1980s.
Coastal fisheries had become fully exploited and too many boats were chasing too few fish. In 1983 it was estimated that a reduction of 294 vessels was required to balance the numbers of inshore fish available with the number of vessels fishing for them. The government intervened. From 1978 no new fishing licences for crayfish and scallops were issued, and from 1980 a moratorium was placed on permits for fin fish.
Towards radical change
As this crisis developed in the coastal fisheries, two developments opened up a way forward:
- the move into deep-sea fisheries
- the establishment of a quota management system.
These two changes would transform the fishing industry over the next 20 years.