Fishing methods

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, 1.3 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:

MPI's A Guide to Netting video

[Fisheries officers Justine and Tokanui address the camera directly, between video footage described below.]

Justine: Set netting and drag netting are restricted in many parts of New Zealand.

Tokanui: If you're in a permitted area, here's a few tips.

Justine: The design and construction of your net, how it is set, and where it is set, will determine what fish you catch.

Tokanui: Before you go fishing you'll need to know your amateur fishing regulations. These are available free of charge from your local Fisheries office. Check the website for the laws that apply to recreational set netting.

[A car pulls into a Fisheries office parking lot, and a man walks into the office.]

Justine: Use the net designed for the fish you are targetting to increase your chances of catching fish you want and to reduce by-catch. For each of the major fish species, make sure you choose the correct net type.

[Hands straighten out a net.]

Tokanui: Use anchors that are designed for the conditions, so that the net doesn't move with the tide. Concrete blocks, bricks, or sash weights won't even hold in moderate current.

Justine: Remember, it is against the law to stake a net.

[A concrete block is shown, then a sash weight tied to a line. A net sits in a plastic bucket. The broken end of a stake is shown with a line tied to it.]

Tokanui: It is very important to use proper buoys. Plastic bottles, oil cans, etc. are not suitable, as they can be easily damaged by the sun and sink. Use only purpose-designed floats that can be clearly seen at a distance.

[A yellow buoy floats on the water. A hand pulls the buoy and the net out of the water. A yellow buoy is seen in the distance between the camera and a fishing boat.]

Justine: For a full set of rules and regulations on netting, visit your local Fisheries office or go to

Tokanui: By following these rules there will be plenty of fish for years to come.

Tokanui: Get text alerts on your area. Text your region name to 9889.

[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 MPI fisheries 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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