Skip to main content


Commercial fishers return fish to the sea for a variety of reasons. In some circumstances they are legally required to discard fish such as those that do not meet the established Minimum Legal Size (just as recreational fishers must) or accidental catch of protected fish species. 

In other situations, fishers have the option to return fish to the sea under the Fisheries Act, for example:

  • Fishers are returning parts of a fish lawfully processed on a vessel.
  • Fishers return fish to the sea to ensure the safety of vessel or crew.
  • Fishers return fish to the sea after being authorised to do so by a Fisheries Officer or Government Observer (in this circumstance the catch is counted against that fisher’s annual catch entitlement).
  • Fishers may also return fish that are listed on Schedule 6 to the Act and in conformance with associated requirements.
  • Fishers may discard fish that are not subject to the Quota Management System.

On occasion fishers may also accidentally lose fish from a net that is being retrieved or lose fish overboard in rough weather. In these circumstances fishers must estimate the volume lost and report that to MPI (this is also counted against that fisher’s annual catch entitlement). 

It is important to note that apart from the exceptions outlined above, it is generally not lawful to discard fish species that are subject to the QMS. The industry does not condone any such discarding. 

However, in some instances it is best practice to return fish to the sea (e.g. live juvenile fish with no market value or females with eggs or pups). It is important that our fisheries management regime continues to recognise and accommodate discarding where it makes biological or economic sense to do so.

It is in everyone’s best interest to reduce the quantity of unwanted fish that are caught. As such, fishers have continued to invest in experimental gear trials and changes to fishing gear to avoid unwanted catch (further details can be found on here). 

Having a good understanding of how many fish are being returned is an important element of fisheries management. This information is also important to obtain from recreational fishers and amateur charter vessels too.  Fisheries Inshore New Zealand supports the collection of better information from all sectors to support good fisheries management; especially when reviewing Total Allowable Catches.