Of every 100 fish taken from the seas around New Zealand, 94 are caught by the commercial fishing industry and six by recreational anglers. But the economic value to the country's economy is about the same.

This is revealed in a major study of the value of salt-water fishing in this country. The project was initiated in 2014 by the New Zealand Marine Research Foundation, which decided it was time we had a better understanding of the economic contribution that fishing-related recreation makes at a national and regional level.

Experienced international researchers Southwick Associates were engaged, and the LegaSea organisation led the necessary fund-raising.

The results are enlightening.

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"In economic terms alone, recreational fishing is a substantial and critical industry," the report says.

"Like other industries, its lifeblood is the revenues received from its customers, who in this case are fishers.

"The many firms who support fishers include retailers, boat builders, tackle manufacturers, suppliers, marinas, motels, restaurants, charter operators, media and more."

The 700,000 people who fish in the sea every year spend $946 million.

"These dollars then circulate through the economy supporting 8100 jobs and stimulating $1.7 billion in total economic activity."

"And there is growth potential also. Participation in both fresh- and salt-water fishing increased by 10 per cent between 2008 and 2014, and if fisheries are kept strong and resilient can grow even more."

This is all based on catching only 6 per cent of the total catch in salt water.

By comparison the commercial fishing industry lands 94 per cent of all fish, of which 90 per cent is exported, and generates between $1.4 billion and $1.6 billion in value to the economy.

Fishing is the fifth most popular recreational activity in the country, and totals 2.65 million days each year.

If it was listed as an industry on the New Zealand Stock Exchange, the direct spending by anglers would put the industry among the top 40 companies.

The report details different categories, including tourist and regional fishing, and summarises spending, such as: Kiwi residents spend an average of $1400 per year on fishing, shore-based fishers spend $710 a year while boat fishers spend $1800. Recreational fishing generates $136 million in GST revenues and $52 million in personal income tax.

The study took two years and says: "Now the results need to be shared with decision-makers, resource managers, the general public and the generous people who funded the valuable project.

"The foundation realises not everyone has an interest in recreational fishing, but most Kiwis aspire to having clean, healthy seas with an abundance of marine life.

"This report offers substantial evidence to support a change of management focus, from the current state of sustained depletion to a state of restored abundance.

"But a shift in management will only happen if there is sufficient political motivation to change."

It calls on interested people to promote such an approach to politicians and government ministries and other industries.

"By working together, we can generate the necessary policy changes to ensure fisheries are more productive and provide for the needs of future generations.

"What better way to do that than by having abundant fisheries and a thriving recreational fishing industry supporting job growth and regional development."

The report shows that in 2014, almost 109,000 international visitors sought a fishing experience while they were in the country.

It estimates that 26 per cent came with the primary purpose of going salt-water fishing.

With careful management, our marine resources could stimulate a strong tourist sport-fishing industry. A prime example is our world-class kingfish fishery.

"Prudent management has enabled kingfish stocks to rebuild to where they are a drawcard for many offshore anglers seeking an unforgettable and potentially world-beating fishing experience.

"Spending by these visitors adds valuable income to businesses in Northland, Coromandel, the East Coast and the top of the South Island," says the report.

And 32 of the 34 recognised men's and women's world-record yellowtail kingfish catches have been recorded in New Zealand waters.

Kahawai is another sport fish which is popular with visitors using light tackle, and is generally quite abundant.

"Imagine the increased benefits if we gained a similar reputation for having other well-managed and abundant fisheries."

After all, fish that are caught and released will have more value than a slab of meat in a frozen box that's sold for a few cents to another country.

It is all about having more fish in the water, and raising the value of those fish; but also about having balance, for the commercial fishing industry employs a lot of people and contributes valuable export dollars.