Rock lobster (crayfish): rules and guidelines

Learn more about how to catch rock lobster, including rules and guidelines to help keep rock lobster populations sustainable for future generations.

Popular rock lobster species

New Zealand rock lobsters (crayfish) are found around the coast of New Zealand and offshore islands. The 2 most popular species are the:

  • red or spiny rock lobster
  • packhorse rock lobster.

Both are regularly fished by commercial, recreational, and customary fishers.

Daily catch/bag and size limits

There are maximum daily catch/bag limits, and size limits for rock lobsters.

Find out more about rock lobster rules and regulations in your area

We have a summary of daily catch and legal size limits, measurement instructions, potting limits, and methods and restrictions:

Guidelines for gathering rock lobster [PDF, 2.2 MB]

Some rock lobster are protected

Some types of rock lobster are protected. You must return them to the water straight away. Protected rock lobsters are:

  • undersized rock lobster
  • any female rock lobster carrying external eggs ("in berry") – these are carried on the underside of the tail
  • any rock lobster in the soft shell stage
  • any rock lobster that cannot be measured (for example, because of damage to the tail preventing accurate measurement).

Keeping rock lobster (crayfish) sustainable

To protect the sustainability of New Zealand rock lobsters:

  • return any protected rock lobster to the sea with care, straight away
  • keep within the size and bag limits
  • quickly measure rock lobsters, as they go blind in sunlight
  • avoid holding rock lobster by their legs or antennae
  • never remove external eggs or the egg-bearing appendages from any rock lobster
  • never leave pots baited and unattended for more than 24 hours
  • never use a spear or device that could puncture rock lobster shells.

A Guide to Crayfish – (2.22)

A Guide to Potting – (1.49)

Animal welfare

It is illegal to kill any farmed or commercially caught crab, rock lobster, crayfish, or kōura (freshwater crayfish) for commercial purposes unless it is made insensible first. This can be done by stunning or chilling. This rule does not apply if you capture the crustacean in the wild and kill it immediately.

How to measure rock lobster (crayfish)

Red or spiny rock lobster (crayfish)

Measure red or spiny rock lobster tail width in a straight line, between the tips of the two large (primary) spines on the second segment of the tail. If you're not sure what sex the lobster is, use the 60mm measurement.

You can determine sex by these characteristics:

  • females have small pincers on the rear pair of legs
  • females have:
    • pleopods (see diagram) which:
      • are in paired form on the underside of their tails
      • have a feathery appearance ("hairs"), which they use to look after their eggs
  • males have pleopods (see diagram) in single form on the underside of their tails.

Packhorse rock lobster (crayfish)

Measure the tail length along the underside in a straight line from the rear of the calcified bar on the first segment to the tip of the middle fan of the tail. Must have a tail length of at least 216mm (male and female).

Report poaching

You can report poaching, suspicious, or illegal activity online:

Report illegal fishing (such as poaching)

You can also:

You can help us by providing:

  • the location
  • vehicle/trailer registration number
  • boat name
  • description of the person.

When reporting any suspected poaching put your personal safety first. All calls and personal details are treated as confidential.

Who to contact

If you have questions about rock lobster (crayfish) rules, email info@mpi.govt.nz

Last reviewed: