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.
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)
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[Fisheries officers Justine and Tokanui address the camera directly, between video footage described below.]
Potting is a popular form of gathering seafood here in New Zealand, both commercially and recreationally. For the most part pots are used for collecting crayfish, however some pots are used specifically for other species such as blue cod and octopus.
There are many different types of pots. By definition a rock lobster pot means
any pot, whether baited or not, that is capable of catching or holding rock lobster.
Many pots are homemade. If you're planning on making a pot, it's important
to know what's needed for it to be legal.
Escape gaps are very important, as they allow undersized lobsters to escape
and prevent harm to juvenile rock lobster.
[Various pots are shown, each with a gap built into the edge of the frame, where netting does not extend all the way to the edge of the pot.]
Check out www.fish.govt.nz for the specific measurements.
If you're using pots, it's a legal requirement that you must write your surname and initials on the buoy and pot. Ideally you should also add your phone number. This is so if it goes adrift, someone can contact you. Use a permanent marker so it doesn't come off.
[A fisherman puts a bait of squid in a pot. His first initial, surname and telephone number are clearly written in black ink on a yellow buoy attached to the pot.]
When you bring your pot to the surface, it's important to check if there are any undersize, soft shell, or females in berry in the pot, and return these to the ocean as soon as possible.
[A pot is pulled onto a boat. Inside we see a bait bag and two crayfish. The width of the second tail segment on the underside of one crayfish is measured using a yellow crayfish ruler. The underside of another crayfish has a mass of red eggs.]
To determine if the crayfish is male or female, check if the crayfish has pincers on the rear legs or check the pleopods. If they are in pairs, it is female. If single, it's a male. However, if in doubt, use the 60 millimeter measurement.
[A tiny pincer is shown at the end of a rear leg on a female crayfish. Pleopods, small paddlelike appendages, are shown on the underside of a female. There are two on each side of the segment, one on top of the other. Pleopods are shown on the male crayfish. There is only one pleopod on each side of the segment.]
Following these rules will help future generations enjoy recreational fishing.
Get text alerts on your area. Text your region name to 9889.
[A mobile phone is shown with text on the screen: To: 9889 Southeast Auckland Central Southland Challenger Fiordland Kermadec]
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
- pleopods (see diagram) which:
- 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).
You can report poaching, suspicious, or illegal activity online:
You can also:
- call 0800 4 POACHER (0800 47 62 24), or
- email email@example.com
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 firstname.lastname@example.org