Managing customary fisheries

Tangata whenua and others can apply to have a fishing area approved as a special customary management area. Learn about the different types of customary management area and how to establish one.

Ways to manage customary fisheries

Tangata whenua (people of the land with authority in a particular place) manage their fisheries under customary fishing regulations and the Fisheries Act in a way that best fits their local practices. 

Types of customary management area

There are several different ways to manage customary fisheries.

Mātaitai reserves

Mātaitai reserves are developed and managed by tangata whenua. They recognise and provide for:

  • the special relationship between tangata whenua and their traditional fishing grounds
  • non-commercial customary fishing.

Mātaitai reserves allow:

  • customary fishing
  • recreational fishing without needing a permit.

Mātaitai reserves don't:

  • allow commercial fishing (unless reinstated by a regulation)
  • allow landing of commercial catch or holding pots
  • affect commercial fishing vessel activities like transiting and mooring
  • affect recreational fishing rules unless there are bylaws in place
  • control whitebait fishing
  • affect access to beaches and rivers
  • change restrictions on access to private land.

Mātaitai reserves may have bylaws

Some mātaitai reserves have bylaws that tangata kaitiaki/tiaki (guardians) use to manage non-commercial fishing. Bylaws apply to all people fishing in a mātaitai reserve.  

Role of tangata kaitiaki/tiaki

The tangata kaitiaki/tiaki appointed to a reserve can:

  • issue customary fishing authorisations for customary food gathering – not just for hui and tangi
  • recommend changes to the recreational and customary fishing rules in the reserve — these may become bylaws
  • recommend reinstatement of limited commercial fishing.

Recommendations for bylaws (for recreational fishing) and regulations (for commercial fishing) are consulted on with the public and relevant stakeholders, and need to be approved by the Minister of Fisheries.

Establishing a mātaitai reserve

Tangata whenua or the tangata kaitiaki/tiaki of a rohe moana may apply for a mātaitai reserve.

Before you apply to establish a mātaitai reserve, find out more about the different management tools by emailing

The customary fishing regulations provide the approval criteria for mātaitai reserves.

Proposed reserves require consultation with the local community and those with a fishing interest in the area.

Use our guidelines

We've developed guidelines that outline how to apply for a mātaitai reserve.

Taiāpure – local fisheries

Taiāpure are areas that have customarily been of special significance to iwi or hapū, as a source of food, or for spiritual or cultural reasons. They can only be established in estuarine or coastal waters.

All types of fishing – commercial, recreational and customary – are allowed in a taiāpure, unless its management committee recommends changes to the fishing rules and the Minister of Fisheries approves them.

Role of the management committee

When a taiāpure is established, the local Māori community nominates people for the management committee. The committee is appointed by the Minister of Fisheries, after consultation with the Minister for Māori Development.

The management committee can provide recommendations to the Minister of Fisheries for regulations (under the Fisheries Act) to manage taiāpure fisheries, relating to:

  • species fished
  • fishing seasons
  • sizes and amounts of fish
  • fishing areas
  • fishing methods.

Establishing a taiāpure

Before you apply to establish a taiāpure, find out more about the different management tools available by emailing

Proposed taiāpure require public consultation and a tribunal hearing by the Māori Land Court. Part 9 of the Fisheries Act details the process for proposing and establishing a taiāpure.

Temporary closures and restrictions on fishing methods (section 186A or 186B)

Temporary closures and restrictions on fishing methods recognise and provide for tangata whenua customary fishing rights and management practices. Temporary closures apply to everyone and may close a fishery for up to 2 years.

Establishing a temporary closure

Anyone can request a temporary closure but the legislation was designed for customary use. To be approved, the Minister must consider the temporary closure will benefit tangata whenua.

Sections 186A and 186B of the Fisheries Act outline the process for establishing a temporary closure.

Fisheries bylaws

Mātaitai reserves

The tangata kaitiaki/tiaki of a mātaitai reserve may recommend bylaws that restrict or ban the taking of fisheries resources from all or part of that reserve. Recommendations are consulted on with the public and stakeholders, and must be approved by the Minister of Fisheries.

Bylaws generally apply to all people fishing in a mātaitai reserve. They must be for the sustainable management of the fisheries resources in that mātaitai, and must be consistent with the purpose of the customary fishing regulations.

Bylaws can cover:

  • species of fish, seaweed, or aquatic life that may be taken
  • the quantity of each species that may be taken
  • size limits for each species
  • the method used to take species
  • the area or areas that species may be taken from
  • anything else the tangata kaitiaki/tiaki consider is needed for the sustainability of fisheries resources in the reserve.

Bylaws do not:

  • affect private landowners’ property rights or land titles
  • change existing arrangements to access private land
  • change the use of natural resources managed under other legislation (such as the Resource Management Act 1991)
  • apply to species managed under other legislation (such as whitebait or trout)
  • impinge on a landowner's ability to exercise resource consents granted for activities such as taking water or extracting gravel from streambeds.

The customary fishing regulations outline the process for establishing mātaitai bylaws.

Settlements with individual iwi

Crown settlements with individual iwi enable them to make fisheries bylaws for their area to restrict or ban taking of species managed under the Fisheries Act 1996.

Bylaws can be for:

  • all or any part of their area
  • any purpose necessary for sustainable use of the species
  • a temporary or permanent restriction or ban on taking particular fish:
    • species
    • quantities or sizes
    • by using specific fishing methods.

Current bylaws

Who to contact

If you have questions about customary fisheries management tools, email

Last reviewed: