Rules for fishing gear, methods, and measuring

Find out about rules for specific fish, fishing gear, and methods, including set nets, set lines, and species. Get recommendations about sustainable fishing and protecting seabirds.

Measuring fish and shellfish

Stay within the legal size limits and accurately measure your catch to help keep local fisheries sustainable. Use the following measurement guides to measure fish, rock lobster (crayfish), and shellfish.

Finfish

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 (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) 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 (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).

Pāua

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. Do not measure over the curve of the shell.

Scallop

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

Dredge oysters

Oysters must not pass through a hard 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 they're caught.

If you catch undersized 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 undersized fish:

  • remove fish from the water only if you need to
  • minimise the time that fish are out of the water
  • handle fish with wet hands
  • put 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

Responsible Fishing Guidelines [PDF, 1.2 MB]

Video: A Guide to Recreational Fishing (1.31)


Set nets

"Set netting" is fishing using a net that is anchored to the sea floor with 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 for set netting

If you want to set nets in New Zealand, you need to follow these rules:

  • Nets must not be baited.
  • Set nets must not be longer than 60 metres.
  • 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).
  • You must not use nets 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 50mm or less) can be carried on a boat at the same time.
  • You cannot use stakes to secure nets.
  • No person may set or possess more than one set net.
  • Nets (or setups with more than one net) 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 be longer than 40 metres.
  • The total warp length should not exceed 200 metres.
  • 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 be longer than 10 metres.
  • They must have a mesh size of 50mm or less.

Sets are restricted in some areas

You cannot set nets in:

  • marine reserves
  • marine mammal sanctuaries
  • set net banned areas
  • areas protected under the Conservation Act 1987.

Find out more

For more information about set netting restrictions and good practice:

Check the fishing rules for your area

Download the Set Net Code of Practice brochure [PDF, 1.1 MB]

Video: Our Guide to Netting video (6:40)


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 follow these rules.

  • 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 do set line fishing in:

  • marine reserves
  • marine mammal sanctuaries
  • areas protected under the Conservation Act 1987.

Spearfishing

Spearfishing involves catching fish with:

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

Rules for spearfishing

If you want to spearfish in New Zealand, you need to follow these rules:

  • You cannot spear crayfish, salmon, or trout.
  • The usual size limits and catch/bag 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.

Check the fishing rules for your area

Fisheries offices

Spearfishing is banned in some areas

You cannot spearfish in:

  • marine reserves
  • any area protected under the Conservation Act 1987.

How to protect seabirds when fishing

There is information available to help you avoid, protect, and release seabirds when fishing.

This page has information on how to handle, rescue, and release seabirds:

How to release a seabird – Catch Fish not Birds

These pages have information on avoiding catching and attracting seabirds:

How to be seabird smart – Catch Fish not Birds

Avoiding specific seabirds – Catch Fish not Birds

Our work to reduce seabird deaths

One of our roles is to limit and reduce the negative effects of fishing activity on seabirds.

Reducing deaths of seabirds

Find out more

Check the fishing rules for your area for other restrictions

Who to contact

If you have questions about rules for fishing gear or methods, email info@mpi.govt.nz

Last reviewed: