A new system
By the early 1980s, with dwindling inshore stocks and too many boats, the New Zealand fishing industry and the government realised that a new fisheries management system was needed. Measures such as moratoriums and controlled fisheries failed to work. The common warning that ‘too many boats are chasing too few fish’ was rephrased by one fisherman as, ‘too many boats chasing no fish’.
Radical thinking emerged. For decades fishing had been dominated by the belief that the sea teemed with fish, and that stocks could not be affected by fishing. As catches dropped alarmingly such views were abandoned. Fisheries management began to adopt a revolutionary approach – instead of controlling fishing methods and the number of boats the goal became limiting how many fish were caught.
In October 1986, after two years of consultation and planning, the Quota Management System was introduced, with widespread industry support. When fishers became aware that a quota system was to be introduced, they increased their activity – quotas (how much fish a person or company is allowed to catch) were allocated on the basis of catch history.
How the quota system works
Previously the fish in the sea could be caught by anyone who had a licence and complied with other regulations. Under the quota system a sustainable total catch or harvest of fish was set. Individuals or companies were allocated the right to catch certain quantities of particular species. Quotas became like other forms of property – they could be leased, bought, sold or transferred. While there has been much tinkering with the system, its basis remains the same.
Each year scientists and the industry together assess the population of all major fish species. Set quotas (in kilograms) are allocated annually to individuals or companies. In theory no one is allowed to catch more than their quota, and all the quotas add up to the total allowable catch. In practice, as fishers cannot control how much their nets scoop up, they can actually catch more than their quota – but this has to be paid for.
In some fisheries non-commercial use is significant (for example, by Māori harvesters and recreational anglers) and this is taken into account before the total allowable catch is set.
Species under the system
Since 1986 the Ministry of Fisheries has steadily been bringing all commercial species under the management of the quota system. In 2005 there were some 93 species (or groups of similar species) managed under the system. Species were further split into about 550 distinct stocks based on where they occur.