Aquaculture legislation

We are the government's principal adviser on aquaculture. Learn about the legislation supporting land-based and marine aquaculture.

Land-based aquaculture

We manage land-based aquaculture through the Freshwater Fish Farming Regulations 1983, under the Fisheries Act 1996. The regulations cover all aquaculture above the high tide mark, including aquaculture:

  • in freshwater canals
  • in indoor aquariums
  • on land using fresh water
  • on land using sea water or brackish water (either pumped from the sea or circulated around the farm).

Under the regulations, farmers must have a fish-farm licence – which we grant – to farm certain listed species.

Marine aquaculture

Marine aquaculture is mainly managed under the Resource Management Act 1991 (RMA) which promotes sustainable management of natural resources.

Under the RMA:

  • regional councils are responsible for planning and managing aquaculture in their coastal area between high tide and the 12 nautical mile limit
  • any new marine farm must have a resource consent from the regional council.

National environmental standards for marine aquaculture

National environmental standards for marine aquaculture (NES-MA) came into force on 1 December 2020.

National environmental standards are established under the Resource Management Act 1991 (RMA). The NES-MA set national rules that replace regional council rules, except where the NES-MA allows regional council rules to remain in force.

The NES-MA will make sure marine farms meet best environmental practice while providing a more certain and efficient process for:

  • replacement consents for existing marine farms
  • realignment
  • change of species applications.

2011 changes to aquaculture legislation

Legislation was changed in 2011 to encourage sustainable aquaculture development and streamline planning and approvals for marine aquaculture. Changes were made to the:

  • Resource Management Act 1991
  • Aquaculture Reform (Repeals and Transitional Provisions) Act 2004
  • Fisheries Act 1996
  • Māori Commercial Aquaculture Claims Settlement Act 2004.

Prior to this, under the Aquaculture Reform Act, farmers could apply to set up new farms only in aquaculture management areas (AMAs) established by councils. AMAs were introduced as a management tool, but were found to complicate and delay approvals for new aquaculture. The 2011 changes simplified the approval process by removing the need for AMAs.

Overview of legislative changes [PDF, 736 KB]

Māori commercial aquaculture claims settlement

The Māori Commercial Aquaculture Claims Settlement Act 2004 allowed for settlement of Māori claims to commercial aquaculture by allocating 20% of AMAs. Since the need for AMAs was removed from aquaculture legislation in 2011, settlement has instead been done through regional agreements.

Find out more about the Māori commercial aquaculture claims settlement

Delivering on the Māori commercial aquaculture settlement [PDF, 593 KB]

Biosecurity legislation

Biosecurity New Zealand works under the Biosecurity Act 1993, to reduce the risk of harmful pests and diseases getting into New Zealand – including our waters. The Act also gives powers to deal with harmful organisms that manage to get into New Zealand.

Find out about:

Find out more

Aquaculture regulation-making power [PDF, 766 KB]

Marine aquaculture management – council guidance

Comparison of international regulations for marine aquaculture [PDF, 1.4 MB]

Setting up an aquaculture farm

Who to contact

If you have questions about aquaculture law and policy, email

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