A deepwater fisherman has told Newshub the country's biggest hoki fishing ground has become a "barren wasteland".
It comes after large fishing companies in New Zealand announced on Wednesday they would cut their fishing quotas in response to dwindling catch rates.
An industry insider says the decline in the West Coast hoki fishery, which encompasses a vast area of New Zealand's waters, has been evident for the past seven years.
But not everyone is worried about the low fish count.
The Sealord factory in Nelson is one of the biggest players in the hoki fishing industry, and the company's boss says quota cuts don't indicate a crisis.
"It's by no means a fishery or even a fishing area which has collapsed," says Doug Paulin, Sealord general manager of group operations told Newshub.
"We've noticed there were less fish this year, and we've seen the same last year."
But one fisherman's assessment is much blunter. He told Newshub that outside the 25 mile line on the West Coast, it's a "bloody barren wasteland".
"One guy towed for 13 hours and only got 3 tonnes - and it's been on decline for the past seven years," the insider said.
Mr Paulin admits his skippers on the West Coast outside the 25 mile line have told him that beyond the line there are fewer fish and "they say it is harder to catch our quota."
Boats are now coming with bigger tows "from different angles" to get their catch, the source told Newshub.
"There should be a date or window where boats are not allowed in there at all," the source suggests.
Mr Paulin said that could be a good idea, telling Newshub the industry is "going to be having rotational closures."
Conservationists say the West Coast ground has been overfished, but the industry says rising sea temperatures could be driving hoki out.
Scientists confirmed surface temperatures have increased.
"In general, in the sub-tropical water - which is most of the water around New Zealand - temperatures have been going up over the past couple of decades," Auckland University physical oceanographer Melissa Bowen told Newshub.
But Hoki is a deepwater fish, she says, and there have been no dramatic changes in deep water.
"No, we haven't seen any evidence of anything dramatic happening deep down," she said.
Sealord says four of the hoki areas are still fishing well, but make no mistake - the declines in the west - the country's biggest hoki ground, are a major worry for the industry.
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