Fishing methods and size limits

Using correct fishing methods and equipment protects local fisheries and keeps fish numbers sustainable for future generations. Learn about sustainable fishing methods, like how to measure and release your catch, and restrictions and rules for set nets.

Measuring your catch

You should stay within the legal size limits and accurately measure your catch to help keep local fisheries sustainable. Use the following measurement guides to help you measure finfish, rock lobster, and shellfish.


Measure finfish length from tip of the nose to the middle ray or V in the tail.
Finfish length is measured from the tip of the nose to the middle ray or 'V' in the tail.

Red or spiny rock lobster

Measure red or spiny rock lobster tail width between the tips of the two large (primary) spines on the second segment.

You can determine sex by these characteristics:

  • females have small pincers on the rear pair of legs
  • females have pleopods (see diagram) in paired form on the underside of their tails
  • males have pleopods (see diagram) in single form on the underside of their tails.

Packhorse rock lobster

Measure packhorse rock lobster tail length in a straight line along the underside of the tail (from the rear of the calcified bar on the first segment to the tip of the middle fan of the tail).


Measure flat face of paua in a straight line, not over the curve of the shell.
Measure the flat face of the pāua in a straight line. Don't measure over the curve of the shell.


Measure the greatest diameter of the shell.
Measure the greatest diameter of the shell.

Dredge oysters

Oysters must not pass through a rigid circular metal ring with an inside diameter of 58 mm.

Releasing undersized fish

Legal size limits are set to allow species to breed at least once before being caught and taken home.

If you catch undersize fish, release them with care and return them as close as possible to the place they were found, especially shellfish and rock lobster.

If you catch undersize fish:

  • remove fish from the water only if necessary
  • minimise the time fish are out of the water
  • handle fish with wet hands
  • lie fish on a soft wet surface if you need to handle them out of the water
  • change to a larger hook size if you are catching a lot of undersized fish
  • remove the hook carefully from a lip-hooked fish
  • cut the line for a gut-hooked fish
  • return fish gently to the sea.

Find out more

Download the Responsible Fishing Guide [PDF, 1.2 MB]

A Guide to Recreational Fishing

[Ministry for Primary Industries logo is seen in front of a calm ocean.]

[MPI fisheries officers Justine and Tokanui stand on the shore and address the camera directly when explanatory video is not shown.]

Tokanui: Everyone who goes fishing needs to know how to release undersized fish correctly.

Justine: So those fish can live to be caught another day when they're of legal size.

[A truck backs a trailer and boat down a boat ramp into the water.]

Justine: The best way to protect small fish is not to catch them at all. Use a larger hook and a bigger bait, as these are less likely to be swallowed by small fish.

Tokanui: However it's best not to keep fishing in an area where most of the fish are small.

[A fisherman takes a lure out of a tackle box and ties it onto his line. Small fish swim underwater. The fisher reels in the line from a boat. A fish swims underwater biting at a baited hook.]

Justine: When fishing from small boats, the best option may be to keep fish in the water while removing the hook. This greatly reduces the stress caused by handling.

[The fisherman holds the fish with a wet towel close to the water. He removes the hook with pliers and releases the fish.]

Tokanui: If fish have to be removed from the water, this should be done carefully. Use a landing net whenever possible, especially if the hook is swallowed. Fish hooked in the gills or the gut should never be lifted by the line.

[A fisherman uses a net at the water's surface to scoop up a fish on the line.]

Justine: It's a good idea to use gloves and place the fish on a wet, soft surface. Most fish will struggle less on a wet surface.

[With a gloved hand, the fisherman places the fish on a wooden board covered by a wet towel, and uses needle-nosed pliers to remove the hook from its mouth.]

Tokanui: Measure the fish accurately, and release or keep the fish based on your local area rules.

[The fish is placed on a fish ruler, with the tip of its nose at the 0 mark, and the middle ray or 'V' in the tail measured at 32cm.]

Justine: For a copy of these rules visit your local fisheries office, or go to

Tokanui: By following these steps we'll keep fishing sustainable.

Tokanui: Want to find the minimum size? Free text your fish species to 9889.

[end of transcript]

Set nets

'Set netting' is fishing using a net anchored to the sea floor by weights. It's a commonly used fishing method around New Zealand.

Using set nets properly avoids:

  • fish wastage
  • by-catch of unwanted or protected fish species
  • the loss of nets.

Rules apply to set netting

If you want to set nets in New Zealand, you need to comply with the following set net restrictions and requirements:

  • Nets must not be baited.
  • Nets must not exceed 60 metres in length.
  • Nets must not be set within 60 metres of another net.
  • Each end of a set net must have a surface float marked permanently and legibly with the fisher's initials and surname (only one float is required for fyke nets).
  • Nets must not be used in a way that causes fish to be stranded by the falling tide.
  • Only one set net (maximum 60 metres) and one bait net (maximum 10 metres with a mesh size of 50 mm or less) can be carried on a boat at any one time.
  • The use of stakes to secure nets is prohibited.
  • No person may set or possess more than one set net.
  • Nets used either individually or jointly must not extend across more than one-quarter the width of any river, stream, channel, bay, or sound.

Cast nets

For species you would expect to catch with a cast net such as garfish/piper, herring/yellow eyed mullet, and pilchard the minimum mesh size is 25mm.

Under the set net rules, only one set net is allowed on a vessel unless the second net is less than 10 metres long and has a mesh size of 50mm or less. A cast net falls under this definition in this circumstance.

Drag nets

Rules and restrictions apply to drag nets.

  • Drag nets must not exceed 40m in length.
  • The total warp length should not exceed 200m.
  • No person may set or possesses more than 1 drag net.
  • Drag nets can only be pulled, hauled, or retrieved by hand.

Bait nets

You can possess 1 bait net on a vessel as well as 1 set net, but there must be at least 2 fishers on the vessel. Rules and restrictions apply to bait nets.

  • Bait nets must not exceed 10m in length.
  • They must have a mesh size of 50mm or less.

Some areas are restricted from set netting

You cannot set nets in:

  • marine reserves
  • marine mammal sanctuaries
  • set net banned areas
  • areas protected under the Conservation Act.

Find out more

For more information about set netting restrictions and good practice:

Our Guide to Netting video (6:40)

[Video title appears: What you need to know before you go: Set netting. Ministry for Primary Industries logo appears, with the words 'Sustainable fisheries for the future'.]

[Positive music plays]

[Richard stands on the beach, next to his small boat that he's preparing, wearing fishing gear.]

Richard: I’m here to try out set netting for the first time. Now a mate of mine got fined a couple a hundred bucks last summer, so I don’t want to get it wrong. 

I’ve had a look at the MPI fishing rules website, and there are lots of rules, but I think I’ve got it right.

[Richard points to fisheries officers in the background on the wharf.]

But I’ve spotted a couple of fishery officers over there, so I’m going to go and check with them.

[Richard greets the fishery officers, Renee and Cam, on the beach.]

Richard: Hey, mate! I’m Richard.

Renee: Kia ora, Richard. I’m Renee, this is Cameron. 

Richard: Hey, mate.

Cameron: Kia ora, Richard. You about to head out?

Richard: Yeah, I’m just trying set netting for the first time, but I’m not really sure of the rules. I was wondering if you guys could take me through the things I need to know?

Renee: Yeah sure, we can help you with that. It’s really important you know the rules before you get started.

Cameron: There are a few rules about set netting that people aren’t aware of.

Richard: Yeah, I guess a lot of people learn how to set net from friends and family, so it’s not always the right info being passed down?

Renee: Yeah, that happens quite a bit.

Richard: But if you don’t know the rules then it’s not your fault, right?

Renee: Sorry, Richard, just because you don’t know the rules doesn’t mean you can’t get fined for breaking them.

Cameron: And besides, the rules are there to protect the kaimoana.

Richard: So, knowing the rules protects the fish?

Renee: Yes, that’s right. Using set nets properly avoids fish wastage and unwanted bycatch.

Cameron: It also helps you to hold onto your net, and to avoid a fine.

Richard: Sounds alright to me. Well shall we go and have a look?

Yeah, let's go.

[Richard and the fishery officers walk towards Richard’s boat.]

[Richard starts to show them the gear in his boat - which includes 2 stakes.]

Richard: So, I’ve got all my gear here.

Renee: Oh okay, well look, first off, you can’t use stakes or poles to hold your net. So let’s take those out of the boat. Can I have a look at your floats?

Richard: Sure.

[Richard holds up the floats.]

Richard: Sweet, here.

Cameron: Yep, those are good. You need to use proper floats and anchors when you’re deploying your set net. They need to be able to hold in position and withstand the conditions.

Richard: Great.

Renee: Set nets need to have surface floats attached to each end of the net, and you need to have the fishers surname and initial marked on it.  

Cameron: It’s also important to mark your floats with your telephone number just in case there's a problem with the net and fishery officers like us need to get in contact with you. It’d be also a good idea to remark your floats before you head out again today.

Richard: Okay.

[Richard marks up floats with permanent marker.]

Cameron: Well let’s have a look at your net Richard.

[The fishery officers look at Richard's net in the barrel.]

Cameron: Set nets need to be 60 metres or less, and drag nets need to be 40 metres or less. 

Richard: OK, well this one’s 60 metres.

Cameron: Great.

Renee: Perfect.

Richard: Awesome.

Renee: There’s also minimum mesh sizes for nets.

[Shot changes to graphics depicting fish species, a fishing map, and mesh sizes.]

Renee: It varies depending on what you’re trying to catch and what region you’re fishing in.
Before you go fishing you should check the regulations for your region and make sure you have the right mesh size for the fish you want to catch.

So if you’re fishing in Wellington and you want to catch blue cod (which needs a minimum mesh size of 100mm), and blue moki (which needs a minimum mesh size of 114mm), you should use a net with 114mm mesh or bigger. You should also think about the other fish that you might catch and make sure that you’re using a net with a big enough mesh size for them too. That way all of the fish that you catch should be bigger than the size restrictions. This helps reduce fish wastage and means that you can take home all of your catch. 

[Shot changes back to Renee, Cam, and Richard.]

Renee: You want all the little ones to swim right though, and you want to catch the big ones.

Basically, the bigger the mesh, the bigger the kaimoana!

Richard: Well that makes sense. So how do I measure my mesh size?

Renee: Let me show you.

[Renee demonstrates measuring the net with a ruler, explaining the steps as he goes.]

Renee: So, a set net will have a square mesh like that, and we don’t measure across the square - we measure across 2 of the opposing knots on the mesh. So we place our ruler on the inside of one of the knots, pull the mesh tight, and... what can you read there, Richard?  

[Renee points to the ruler.]

Richard: About 165.

Renee: 165.

Richard: Cool so I’m good to go?

Renee: Yeah you’re good to go its perfect. You know you can use this set net to catch tarakihi, kahawai, blue cod, butterfish, snapper, because it’s larger than the minimum net mesh size that’s actually required. Perfect.

Richard: Nice!  Okay so the next step’s baiting, right? What’s the best one to use?

Renee: You’re not allowed to bait a set net, set nets are only to be used as they are set in the water.

Cameron: So where do you want to set your net?

Richard: Well, I know I’m not allowed to set nets in marine reserves, or marine mammal sanctuaries or in set net banned areas.

Renee: That’s correct. Also, you can’t set set nets in areas that are protected under the Conservation Act.

Richard: Right, and I know I can’t stall nets.

[Cutaway to graphic demonstrating stalling.]

Renee: True. Nets must not be used in such a way the fish become stranded due to the falling tide.

[Back to Richard, Cam and Renee.]

Richard: Well I was thinking of over there, but now there’s someone else kind of nearby.

Renee: Yeah, you don’t want to be too close to somebody else.

[Graphic showing required net distance.]

Renee: Because nets must be more than 60 meters apart from any other set net.

[Graphic showing correct setting on narrow waterways.]

Also, no net can be set more than a quarter of the way across the width of any river, stream, channel, bay, sound or waterway.

[Back to Richard, Cam and Renee.]

Richard: What about those rocks over there?

Renee: Yeah, good plan.

Richard: Sweet, looks like I’m all ready to go!

Renee: Great!

Richard: Hey, if I take a mate with me, can I put out 2 nets?

Renee: No, only one set net can be used from a boat at any one time. But, you can also take a bait net.

Cameron: A bait net must have a maximum length of 10 metres, and a mesh size of 50mm or less.

Richard: Okay, well I don’t have a bait net with me today so I guess it’ll just be the set net. Oh, I forgot! I was going to bring a winch so I could pull up all my kaimoana.

Renee: Hold on, Richard. You can’t use a winch. Nets can only be set, pulled, hauled or retrieved by hand.

Richard: Good thing I forgot that then… Well here’s one thing I do know...

Renee: What’s that?

[Richard holds up a life jacket.]

Richard: You've got towear a life jacket!

Cameron: Nice one.

Richard: So am I all set to set net?

Cameron: Yeah, bro!

Renee: You’re good to go.

Richard: Choice.

[Shot changes to graphics of MPI fisheries offices, website, and NZ Fishing Rules app.]

Renee: And if you want to check anything, the rules are available from your local MPI fisheries office. You can find them online at - or you can download the free NZ Fishing Rules app.

[Shot changes back to Renee, Cam, and Richard all shaking hands and finishing up.]

Richard: Sweet, cheers guys.

Cameron: Good luck.

Richard: Sweet, thanks for the help.

Renee:  Anytime.

Richard: Cool.

[Fishery officers leave and Richard starts setting up his gear].

Renee: If you want to set net in New Zealand, you must follow the rules.

If you don’t, you could be fined $250, or prosecuted up to $20,000.

[Renee speaks to the camera.]

Renee: So let your friends and whanau know and teach your mokopuna the right way. You’ll help them to avoid a fine, and you’ll be part of creating greater sustainability of our shared fishery resource.

It’s everybody's responsibility to know the rules before you go.

So you need to know before you go!

[Renee walks to vehicle with Cam. They get in and drive off.]

[MPI Logo with MPI website link.]

[End of transcript]

Set line fishing

'Set line' fishing is fishing using a number of short lines carrying hooks which are attached to a longer main line. Set lines can include drop lines, long lines and Kontikis. Set lines do not include rod and reel or hand lines.

Rules apply to set line fishing

If you want to set line fish in New Zealand, you need to comply with the following line fishing restrictions and requirements.

  • No person may use, or be in possession of, more than 1 set line (other than handlines, or rod and reel lines).
  • No person may use or possess a set line with more than 25 hooks.
  • where more than 1 person is using a set line from a vessel (other than rod and reel lines), no more than 2 lines (other than rod and reel lines), may be used, set from or possessed on board that vessel.
  • Surface floats attached to any line must be marked clearly, legibly and permanently with the fisher's initials and surname. A phone number is also useful.

Some areas are restricted from set line fishing

You cannot set line fish in:

  • marine reserves
  • marine mammal sanctuaries
  • areas protected under the Conservation Act.

Find out more


Spearfishing involves catching fish with:

  • rubber powered spearguns and slings
  • compressed gas pneumatic powered spearguns.

Most spearfishing is done while freediving.

Rules apply to spearfishing

If you want to spearfish in New Zealand, you need to comply with these restrictions and requirements:

  • You cannot spear crayfish, salmon or trout.
  • The usual size and catch limits apply – you cannot be in possession of undersized or excess fish (even if they're dead). Read our fishing rules pages for more information.

It's a good idea to have a measure on your speargun. You could cut out the ruler from one of our fish measuring stickers and put it on your gun to use as a reference. You can get a sticker from any Fisheries New Zealand office.

Some areas are restricted from spearfishing

You cannot spearfish in:

  • marine reserves
  • any area protected under the Conservation Act.

Find out more

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