PRINCIPLE 2 – Stop senseless waste

The situation

Our precious fisheries resources are being wasted, en masse, every day.

Millions of small fish, mostly immature, are killed and discarded every year. We cannot rebuild the fishery and manage for abundance while this level of juvenile mortality exists. One common cause of this gross waste is the use of unselective and archaic fishing methods, such as trawling.

Trawling is, a hangover from centuries gone by and bulk harvesting methods such as trawling and Danish seining needs to be banished from our nearshore waters.

Many studies have confirmed the high level of juvenile and other unwanted catch in trawling, and in the early 1990s the Ministry commissioned research to find out how many fish were being killed by trawlers. Despite multiple Official Information Act request to Ministry, we have repeatedly been declined access to this report that shows the level at which our national resource is being wasted – fuelling suspicion it must be bad. It is common knowledge, however, that huge numbers of juvenile fish are killed and discarded each year by trawlers

The commercial fishing industry seem to acknowledge there is a problem. The industry and taxpayers have invested resources into developing new technology aimed at reducing this unproductive waste. So far we haven’t been given access to any results or even benchmarks for success.

Given our collective investment we expect research results to be made available to the public. It will be good to get proof that the senseless waste of fish is being addressed.

Recreational fishers who practice catch and release must ensure a high level of survivorship of released fish. Otherwise they are contributing to wasteful mortality by poor fishing practice. Most fishers releasing live fish from the hook expect they are conserving fish for the future. Fish that are lip hooked and caught in depths less than 25 metres have a better chance of survival, with a few conditions. Survivorship will be improved greatly if release weights are routinely used when fish are suffering from barotrauma.

Fish caught in depths over 30m will have punctured or very distended swim bladders. Survival of these fish is far less certain, and varies with species.

Why you

Significantly reducing the amount of waste will enable our fisheries to rapidly rebuild to international best practice levels.

More abundant fisheries will most likely reduce conflicts between sectors.

We will all benefit from having access to abundant and sustainable fish stocks and future generations can enjoy world class fisheries.

LegaSea’s solution

LegaSea wants your support to Tip the Scales on wastage. We need to ban old world style trawling from within the 100m depth contour, until better selectivity and reduced waste can be demonstrated.

To better understand wastage we need the Minister to direct his Ministry to release the 1994 Trawl Mortality Report. Hiding this information only leads to distrust and doubt over counter-claims that waste is not such a big problem.

We also need to identify areas that need protection from fishing. There are historic and known nursery and significant habitat areas. We need to protect these areas so juvenile fish can grow to adult size.

The fishing public also has a responsibility to reduce waste. People have lots of good ideas to share. LegaSea calls for investment into resourcing a meaningful process whereby the public can research and consult and come up with ways to conserve fish to accelerate the rebuild.


Everyone loses when fish are discarded or wasted due to perverse incentives within the QMS, poor selectivity, poor release practices, and inappropriate fishing methods. Rebuilding toward the 40% target is much easier if wastage be reduced or eliminated. Responsible utilisation will achieve far better yield per recruit, reduced juvenile mortality, and will require adopting environmentally benign fishing techniques.


1. Information. All fisheries information is in the public interest, and all records that identify catch mix, species, methods, and areas of commercial catch needs to be immediately released into the public domain. In particular all data that has been collected on catch composition of inshore trawlers that has been gathered since 1990 must be immediately available for public scrutiny.

2. Remove trawling that cannot demonstrate compliance with reasonable selectivity standards and minimised benthic contact from within the 100m contour.

Notes: The recent Snapper1 Commercial agreement sets a selectivity standard of juvenile catch at 15% of the total snapper catch by weight, which will typically run to 30% by number of total fish killed. Clearly, this is a standard that accepts poor selectivity and is not reasonable.

3. Resource the public conversation designed to develop ways to reduce waste in the recreational sector. Invest in education to provide the public with the tools and understanding required to better conserve fish.

Notes – The public are more than ready to further conserve precious resources, but only in the context of rebuilding abundance, not to subsidise export driven commercial fishing.

The exact figures are unknown. Best estimates are that commercial fishers waste one million or more juvenile snapper each year, and recreational fishers waste 100,000 or more.

These are significant proportions of all recruiting snapper and comprise a large rebuild potential if they can be mostly saved.

There are several studies that have measured waste and the most contentious at the moment is one undertaken in 1994. MPI have refused to release the results of this study despite OIA requests.

This secrecy is unhelpful when devising strategies to rebuild the inshore ecosystem.

Why wont Ministry release the 1994 Trawl Report that they have acknowledge that they have?

LegaSea is promoting moving non-selective fishing methods outside the 100m contour line because that is the considered limit of small fish vulnerable to trawling and seining. In the absence of being able to more closely identify juvenile habitats, the default limit needs to be the 100m contour
There are two parts to this issue. Firstly, once the fish are caught and killed it doesn’t make any difference to the fishery whether they’re landed or discarded at sea. At present a 450 tonne allowance in the Total Allowable Catch has been set aside to account for the mortality of snapper caused by fishing.

The second point is that once these fish are landed a market is generated around these fish. Once it is landed legally and counted against quota, there is no incentive to avoid the catch; the incentive is to develop a high paying market. Landing all catch eliminates the drive to improve yield per recruit and encourages economic dependence on immature fish. LegaSea wants to avoid creating any perverse incentives to kill more small fish and to eliminate poor fisheries management practices.

Land all catch simply tries to exempt the commercial fishing industry from having to harvest seafood in a responsible manner. It just allows them to continue to use the damaging old world technology that they have developed a dependency around, due to their lack of innovation and their desire to keep costs as low as possible to keep profits as high as possible. Meanwhile, other commercial fishers, such as longliners, who can better select what fish they catch and avoid are squeezed out of the market as trawling is financially more cost efficient – (but far less ecologically efficient.)

Shaun WilsonPrinciple 2 – Stop senseless waste