New Zealand catch reconstruction

The total amount of marine fish caught in New Zealand waters between 1950 and 2010 is estimated at 2.7 times more than official statistics suggest, and most of the difference is due to unreported commercial catch and discarded fish.

This is a chief finding from the milestone “catch reconstruction” study, part of the global  project designed to fill gaps in official catch data, Sea Around Us. NZAI researchers Dr Glenn Simmons, Professor Hugh Whittaker (a Fellow based at the University of Oxford), Professor Nigel Haworth, and Dr Christina Stringer, are part of the research team. The global findings were published in 2016 in Nature Communications; the New Zealand report was released in May 2016. Media coverage and political repercussions are significant and ongoing.

Main findings

  • New Zealand’s reconstructed marine catch totalled 38.1 million tonnes between 1950 and 2010, which is 2.7 times the 14 million tonnes reported to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO)
  • Since the Quota Management System (QMS) was introduced in 1986, the total catch is conservatively estimated to be 2.1 times that reported to the FAO
  • Unreported commercial catch and discards account for the vast majority of the discrepancy
  • Recreational and customary catch was 0.51 million tonnes, or 1.3 percent
  • More than half of industrial catch goes unreported - an estimated 42.5 percent of industrial catch by New Zealand flagged vessels was reported
  • 42 percent of the industrial catch was caught by foreign-flagged vessels, which dominated the catching of hoki, squid, jack mackerels, barracoota and southern blue whiting – some of the most misreported and discarded species

New Zealand reconstruction charts  

Total reconstructed catch 1950-2010 (New Zealand and foreign flagged vessels) showing the contribution of each sector and fish discards. Subsistence sector catch is too small to appear on this chart. The solid line represents total landings reported by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) on behalf of New Zealand.

Extended reconstructed catch 1950-2013 (New Zealand and foreign flagged vessels), showing reported and unreported catch.


The New Zealand catch reconstruction report can be downloaded here.

The catch reconstruction is one of three main strands of research (catch reconstruction, labour standards, and value adding) undertaken by researchers at NZAI to assist fisheries businesses to create, deliver and capture more value from their activities.

For further information contact: Dr Glenn Simmons.

Sea Around Us project

The Sea Around Us project is a research initiative at The University of British Columbia (located at the Institute for the Oceans and Fisheries) that assesses the impact of fisheries on the marine ecosystems of the world, and offers mitigating solutions to a range of stakeholders. The project involves international collaboration between 400 researchers, including researchers from the New Zealand Asia Institute.

The global catch reconstruction results were published in the prestigious journal Nature Communications in January 2016. They reveal that global marine fisheries catches are higher than reported and declining much more strongly since peaking. This suggests a need for improved monitoring of all fisheries, including often neglected small-scale fisheries, and illegal and other problematic fisheries, as well as discarded bycatch.

The New Zealand catch reconstruction report released in May 2016, estimates the real New Zealand catch at 2.7 times more than reported.

Selected media coverage