Fisheries Infosite

History of Fishing in New Zealand

DateKey eventsEvolution of New Zealand Fishing and Fisheries Management
Mid 1850sOpen entry management

Commercial fishing is largely conducted inshore, and the open entry management system puts pressure on fisheries and the rights of fishers. The New Zealand Government begins its regulation of fishing activity by applying a limited entry management system to particular fisheries. This includes licensing, and restrictions on gear, methods, areas and size.

1866First fisheries legislation

The Oyster Fisheries Act 1866 becomes the first fisheries management legislation. It provides exclusive use to those who develop artificial oyster beds, and 3 years later extends 5 year exclusive rights to those discovering natural oyster beds.

1868The rise of trawling

Test voyages by the Redcliff off Dunedin prove that trawling can be a much more efficient method than lining.

1870Fish canningFish canning commences at Whangarei using grey mullet, which is fished all year round and goes into decline.
1877Marine Department formed

The Fish Protection Act 1877 seeks to provide a comprehensive approach to regulating fisheries.  The Governor can now declare fisheries, grant exclusivity and regulate fishing times and mesh sizes, for waters within 3 miles of shore. The Marine Department is set up to administer and enforce these regulations.

1880Wellington municipal market opensWellington City Council opens a municipal fish market aimed at supplying consistent and cheap supplies to the public and reducing waste.
1883Steam trawling tests

The first steam powered trawler, Titan, is tested successfully in deep water and signals the growth in this method of fishing.


The Mataura ships the first consignment of frozen flounder and mullet from Auckland to London.

1884More conservation measuresThe Fisheries Conservation Act 1884 consolidates previous legislation and introduces more specific regulations on size and weight of fish, seals taken, closed seasons, fishing methods and prohibitions on illegal fishing and polluting fishing grounds. An amendment to Regulation 2 requires Māori to obtain a licence for reasons other than personal or family consumption.
1885Encouragement of industry growthThe Fisheries Encouragement Bill 1885 provides for the establishment of fishing towns and villages, and promotes the production of canned and cured fish for export. Subsequently several trawlers are chartered to assess the quantity and quality of fish in New Zealand waters and determine suitable areas for bottom trawling.
1890Otter boards increase trawl efficiencyOtter boards, a stabilising device attached to trawl nets, revolutionises trawling and increases catch efficiency by up to eight times.
1890sDunedin is NZ's top fishery

The Dunedin inshore fishery, to Foveaux Strait and Stewart Island, is New Zealand's largest commercial fishery, followed by Auckland. Refrigerated vessels regularly transport fish to Australia.

1892Fisher licensing and boat registration (oysters)The Oyster Fisheries Act 1892 consolidates all previous enactments concerning oysters, with further licensing of fishers and registering of boats used in the fishery.
1894Fisher licensing and boat registration (sea fisheries)

The Sea Fisheries Act 1894 further consolidates all previous enactments and introduces new restrictions in the oyster fishery, such as licensing and registration of vessels, appointment of inspectors and fishery officers, enforcement procedures and penalty provisions. Amendments in 1895 and 1896 differentiated between requirements for oysters and other shellfish.

1894Albert Sanford's fish market opens

Sanford's fish market is established in Auckland. The company is later forced to compete with "municipalisation" of fishing by the Auckland City Council, which opened its own fish market in 1914 and entered the fishing business until 1923.

1898LF Ayson appointed NZ Fisheries Commissioner

Lake Falconer Ayson is appointed Fisheries Commissioner for the New Zealand government and then in 1989, Chief Inspector of Fisheries. He remains in office until 1926. He undertakes ground breaking international and local research, which plays a major role in the overhaul of fisheries administration and encourages the growth and development of the industry. He operates at a very hands on level, with the aim of ensuring a ready supply of fish to the public and also employment in the sector. By 1913 his vision is of New Zealand as a great fishing nation with a large export trade.  Over his remaining years in office, he works tirelessly to encourage the industry in that direction.

1900Oil enginesThe fourth major technological change - the oil engine - is added to the fisherman's arsenal of trawl nets, steam power and ice.
1903Catch reportingThe Sea Fisheries Act 1903 extends control over commercial fishing, including vessel registration numbers being displayed on bow and mainsail of Auckland fishing and oyster vessels, owners of licensed fishing vessels and curers to report fish caught and cured to the Marine Department, and penalties for those who wilfully destroy fish.
1906Subsidies mootedJames Niven proposes that the fishing industry should be subsidised by the government "as has been done in every other country in the world". The aim is to make fish more affordable to the public - a recurring theme of the time.
1908Comprehensive statutory framework to 3 miles

The Fisheries Act 1908 consolidates various enactments to date and sets up the administrative and statutory framework that remained in place until 1983. It specifies detailed regulations, stringent enforcement procedures and penalty provisions to protect and conserve fish stocks. It also establishes New Zealand jurisdiction over a three mile territorial sea.

1912Exports reach 55,000 poundsAs exports reach 55,000 pounds (wet fish 33,000, canned fish 13,000, oysters 3,000, whalebone and whale oil 5,000), there are 1179 registered vessels in NZ and about 1,500 fishers.
1912Foreign vessel licensing

The Fisheries Amendment Act 1912 requires licensing of foreign fishing vessels within the three mile zone. This remains in place until the Territorial Sea and Fishing Zone Act 1965 establishes a nine mile zone outside the three mile one.

1923Auckland/Sanford dominantAlmost half of New Zealand's catch is landed in Auckland and Thames, where Sanford Limited is the dominant merchant.
1925Danish seining and the Dalmatians

Danish seining (pulling a net towards a stationary vessel) is introduced to Hauraki Gulf by Jack and Andy Andreason. It expands rapidly and brings with it new wholesale fish merchants, many of whom are of Dalmatian (now Croatian) descent. By 1930 steam trawlers in Auckland dwindle to 4.

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