Fisheries Infosite

History of Fishing in New Zealand

DateKey eventsEvolution of New Zealand Fishing and Fisheries Management 
1926Arthur Hefford shifts the focus to statistics and conservation

Arthur Hefford is appointed Chief Inspector of Fisheries on the retirement of LF Ayson. He sets about managing fisheries based on facts and knowledge, and with a view to conservation. His quest for statistics, reports and information is insatiable. He first turns his mind to Hauraki Gulf snapper and Auckland oysters, which he believes are significantly depleted.

1936Industrial Efficiency Act passed

Following the Great Depression of the early 1930s, the Industrial Efficiency Act of 1936 aims to promote “the economic welfare of New Zealand by providing for the promotion of new industries in the most economic form, and by so regulating the general organisation, development, and operation of industries that a general measure of industrial efficiency will be secured”. The fishing industry is one of the first to be regulated and brought under central bureaucratic control.

1936Exports redirected to domestic consumption

The Sea Fisheries Investigation Committee undertakes an extensive survey of the fishing industry. It recommends an immediate reduction of exports (through licensing by the Marine Department), in favour of distribution of fish throughout New Zealand. The domestic market is to be price controlled via local committees in Auckland, Wellington and Dunedin, charged with the "supervision, co-ordination and development of the internal market for fish." Other significant changes are the reduction of Danish seining, trawl and hook effort and increased mesh and fish sizes. Rules are brought in around "in berry" crayfish, craypot attendance times, a two year ban of Foveaux oyster dredging and the fencing off of whitebait spawning areas.

1937Total catch estimated at 18,156 tons

The Sea Fisheries Investigation estimates total catch at 18,156 tons and exports at 2,535 tons. These figures are later thought to be low, due to the methodologies used.

1939National catch and method mix

Of approximately 18,000 tons landed nationally, one third is from trawlers and one third from Danish seiners. 7,000 tons come from snapper, 2,700 tarakihi, 1700 groper, 1,400 blue cod, 924 flounder, 671 sole and the balance "mixed round fish". Of the national catch, 40% is landed at Auckland with 70% by Danish seiners and 27% from trawlers.

1944Impact of World War II

By 1944 national catch has only declined 15% to 15,400 tons from the pre-war level of 18,000. Around this time although, approximately 40 species are regularly landed, 6 (snapper, tarakihi, groper, blue cod, gurnard and flatfish) make up 85% of total wetfish catch.

1945 to early 1962Export restriction and licensing

Further changes to licensing strengthen the limited entry system, but by the end of the period, several inshore fisheries are unexploited. Employment in the commercial sector remains relatively low and stable. Three quarters of domestic catch is supplied to the local market, with a limited range of high value, inshore species.

1956Fiordland crayfish boom

Crayfish/rock lobster catches peak at 6,000 tonnes, during what is know as the Fiordland Boom

Late 1950sDivisions between the industry and Marine Department

The industry and department are poles apart. The department is seen as a bureaucratic machine that does its best to stifle development of the industry. The industry is seen as out to loot the ocean resources, with little interest in anything but their profits. Political lobbying grows significantly. Politicians are grouped in three factions - those concerned with the high price of fish; those concerned about conservation; and those concerned about increasing exports.

1961Wetfish catch totals 26,431 tons, worth 403,000 pounds

41 different species are commercially caught, but most of them go into a statistical group called "mixed rounds". Snapper and tarakihi make up 50% of landings, followed by gurnard, trevally, blue cod, hapuku, elephant fish, flounder and sole. Only one quarter is exported and three quarters of the catch is trawled. The value of exports represents 40% of the total value of landings.


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