Sustainable fishing

It is estimated that more than three-quarters of the world’s fisheries are fully exploited or overfished. Unsustainable, destructive and illegal fishing practices are depleting wild fish stocks, destroying fragile marine habitats and putting marine species at risk of extinction.

Poor fisheries management, worsened by climate change, is the largest threat to ocean life and habitats – and to the billions of people around the world who rely on the ocean for their livelihoods.

In December 2022, Aotearoa New Zealand and other countries around the world signed up to the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework (GBF), a global treaty which aims to halt and reverse the loss of nature by 2030.

This treaty commits the nations of the world to the target of ensuring that industries, including fisheries, are managed sustainably. WWF works in New Zealand and globally to improve fisheries management and sustainability.

Our approach to sustainable fisheries in New Zealand is:

  • Advocating solutions to address the accidental bycatch of threatened and protected species 
  • Advocating the creation of a network of marine protected areas as part of better oceans management
  • Supporting sustainable fisheries initiatives, including emerging technologies
  • Promoting better policy and regulation of fisheries towards an ecosystem-based management approach to reduce the negative impacts of fishing 
  • Working with our colleagues in the region to promote better management of fisheries in the wider Pacific

Internationally WWF has long campaigned for the sustainable management of the world's fisheries

Worldwide, WWF combines field, policy and market work in a strategic approach that focuses on:

  • Working with fishers to develop practical solutions to reduce bycatch
  • Working with governments to limit fishing and restore ocean productivity by establishing policies for ecosystem-based management of fisheries
  • Looking for ways to increase awareness among fishing sector investors and insurers, and working with them to develop and adopt business practices that reward sustainable fishing
  • Working with major buyers and traders so they buy only from fisheries that have adopted improved standards and approaches, and no longer buy from poorly managed and/or overfished fisheries
© / David Fleetham / WWF

Bycatch of Non-target Marine Species

‘Bycatch’ is the name given when marine animals are caught accidentally in nets and on hooks while people are fishing. Bycatch occurs in both recreational and commercial fishing. Every year, many marine animals die needlessly – including fish, marine mammals, seabirds, turtles, sharks and stingrays.

Estimates predict at least 40 percent, or 38 million tonnes, of annual global marine catch is bycatch. It is among the leading causes of species decline.

Bycatch can contribute to overfishing and put protected species, such as whales and seabirds, at further risk of extinction. New Zealand has more seabirds than anywhere else on earth, but every year thousands are accidentally caught in fishing nets and die needlessly. Bycatch of species like corals and sponges can also cause damage to important habitats. 

But there are solutions. Through improved fisheries management, better ocean policy, and smarter fishing gear, bycatch of non-target species can be reduced or even eliminated in fisheries activity.

What we are doing

WWF-New Zealand is working to eliminate bycatch through building awareness, engaging with industry, iwi, hapū and other organisations to find solutions, and campaigning for better policy and measures to reduce bycatch and better protect our species. For example, find out more about our seabird work here.

© New Zealand Story

Transparency and Traceability in Fisheries

Overfishing, Illegal, Unreported, and Unregulated (IUU) fishing activities, human rights abuses, and fraud continue to be reported from the global seafood industry.

For the world to transition towards more sustainable seafood sourcing, it is important that policies and fishing laws are adhered to. Seafood supply chain transparency can help verify that those policies and laws are followed through the use of traceability. This is an important tool to ensure that fish stocks remain healthy, marine and coastal environments are protected, and labourers are treated fairly.

Traceability is the ability to track a product through all stages of the supply chain, from production, processing and distribution. Key data is collected at each step in the supply chain and this data collected can be used to verify food safety, legality and sustainability of seafood products.

Seafood transparency becomes a reality when the information collected, such as where and when the fish was caught, who caught the fish, and fishing method used, is fully accessible by retailers and consumers, so that they can independently make a fully informed choice about the seafood they are purchasing.

What we are doing

Full seafood supply chain traceability and transparency would be a major step toward mitigating and eventually eliminating harmful fishing practices. There are tools and technology available that can make full traceability and transparency possible. Globally, WWF is working with technology providers, industry, retailers and governments to increase the traceability of seafood around the world. Read more about these solutions in the links below.

© Carolyn Aguilar / WWF-New Zealand

Ecosystem-based management of Fisheries

The governance and management of New Zealand’s marine systems is very fragmented, with decisions made sector-by-sector or issue-by-issue.

An ecosystem-based approach to fisheries management aims to find new, innovative forms of management that conserve fish stock populations, doesn’t harm other marine species, and protects marine ecosystems - all while supporting sustainable fisheries and the fishers that depend on them.

This approach recognises that marine ecosystems are constantly changing and takes into consideration how the environment affects fish stocks and how fishing affects the environment. It also considers the economic, social and cultural interests of all stakeholders in a fishery, and how these affect management decisions.

In 2005, the Ministry of Fisheries outlined its approach to ecosystem-based fisheries management. However, while some initiatives to deal with specific environmental issues have been put in place (such as observer programmes, and marine mammal bycatch limits), these have still been reactive and uncoordinated.

What we are doing

An ecosystem-based approach is central to all of WWF's conservation work. WWF-New Zealand is advocating for the New Zealand Government to adopt an ecosystem-based management approach through strengthening and integrating existing legislation, incorporating mātauranga Māori in legislation and management framework, and ensuring collaborative co-governance and management of our marine environments is enabled.

Danish seining vessel


Novel applications of technology for supply chain traceability and transparency will transform the global seafood industry. By reducing or eliminating issues of overfishing, illegal and unreported fishing, wastage and mislabeling, fisheries can become more environmentally sustainable

Fishing trawler


WWF is working towards a world where people and nature live in harmony. And that means not just looking after nature, but people too

purse seine demonstration

IUU Fishing in the Pacific

WWF Submission to the New Zealand House of Representatives Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Committee, Inquiry into Illegal, Unreported, and Unregulated Fishing in the Pacific Islands