Sustainable fishing

It is estimated that more than three-quarters of the world’s fisheries are fully exploited or overfished.

Each year inefficient, destructive and/or illegal fishing practices kill millions of fish and marine animals as unwanted bycatch.

Poor fisheries management, exacerbated by climate change, is the largest threat to ocean life and habitats and to the livelihoods and diets of more than a billion people.

In New Zealand our approach to sustainable fisheries is:

  • Promoting better regulation of fisheries to manage impacts on ecosystems
  • Working with fishing companies that want to become more sustainable
  • Advocating solutions to address by-catch of threatened species 
  • Advocating the creation of a network of marine protected areas as part of better oceans management
  • Working with major seafood buyers to promote sustainable seafood purchasing
  • 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 major buyers and traders so they buy only from fisheries that have adopted improved standards and approaches, such as the Marine Stewardship Council, and no longer buy from poorly managed and/or overfished fisheries. 
  • 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.
© Katrina Reilly /WWF-New Zealand


‘Bycatch’ is the name given to marine animals 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 sea lions, sharks, seabirds, turtles and dolphins.

In New Zealand, we are working hard to raise people’s awareness about the numbers of seabirds and marine mammals killed by fishing nets and longlines. We are also advocating to the government for stronger measures to reduce bycatch and better protect our species. Find out more on our Seabirds page.

WWF-New Zealand is an active member of Southern Seabird Solutions. This not-for-profit trust brings together government agencies, fishers and conservation organisations who work together to reduce the number of seabirds killed by fishing operations.

We also work internationally to address the serious issue of shark and turtle bycatch. Up to 100 million sharks are killed annually by a wide range of fisheries. In 2022, the New Zealand government highlighted sea turtle mortality in fisheries as a serious concern that was much higher than previously reported.

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. We need an ecosystem-based approach to fisheries management.

A key aspect of such an approach is that it recognises the economic, social and cultural interests of all stakeholders in a fishery, and how these affect management decisions. This makes the approach likely to succeed and be sustainable, where many other initiatives have failed.

Almost 20 years ago, in 2005, the Ministry of Fisheries outlined its approach to ecosystem-based 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

Ecosystem-based Management (EBM) is central to all of WWF's conservation work. The overall aim of implementing EBM in marine fisheries is to find new, innovative forms of management that conserve fish populations, don’t harm other marine species, protect the structure and function of marine ecosystems, and support sustainable fisheries and the fishers that depend on them.

WWF-New Zealand is encouraging the New Zealand Government to adopt an ecosystem-based management approach, based on policies and regulations co-ordinated across the Oceanic region.