Rock lobster

New Zealand rock lobsters (crayfish) are found around the coast of New Zealand and offshore islands. Learn more about how to catch rock lobster, including rules and guidelines to help keep rock lobster populations sustainable for future generations.


Popular species

The 2 most popular species of rock lobster are the red or spiny rock lobster and the packhorse rock lobster. Both are regularly fished by commercial, recreational, and customary fishers.

Daily bag and size limits

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

Some rock lobster are protected

Some types of rock lobster are protected and must be immediately returned to the water. They are:

  • undersized rock lobster
  • any female rock lobster carrying external eggs (these are carried between the pleopods 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).

Use sustainable practices

To protect the sustainability of New Zealand rock lobsters:

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

Find out more

Getting to grips with handling and measuring lobster [PDF, 2.2 MB]
Information on daily catch and legal size limits, measurement instructions, potting limits, methods and restrictions, and guidelines for handling rock lobsters.

A Guide to Crayfish

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

Crayfish, or spiny rock lobster, is a delicacy for many New Zealanders. And collecting crayfish is a favorite pastime for many.

Crayfish are widespread throughout New Zealand, particularly in coastal areas where there is plenty of cover.

[Crayfish are seen close up underwater. A rocky coastline is shown.]

They are normally caught when diving or in crayfish pots. Gathering by hand or using a crayfish lasso are the only catching methods permitted. Using a spear or device could harm the crayfish.

[A crayfish pot is dropped from a boat into the water. A SCUBA diver swims underwater and picks up a crayfish by hand.]

Try to avoid grasping the crayfish by the legs or antennae, as damaged crayfish seldom survive.

Try your hardest to see if the crayfish is of size on the spot, as if you find it's undersize, it will have a higher chance of survival.

Any crayfish that is in soft shell, or female in berry, must be returned to the water.

[Close-up of shell, and underside of a female with clusters of red eggs are shown.]

To measure the crayfish, take the distance between the primary spines on the 2nd tail segment.

[A still image is shown, highlighting the spines on either side of the bottom of the crayfish. Another crayfish is held out of the water, and the width of the underside second tail segment is measured with a yellow lobster ruler.]

The minimum size for a male is 54 millimeters, and 60 millimeters for a female.

[A still image is shown comparing undersides of a male and female. The thorn-shaped spines on the second tail segment are measured 54 mm apart for the male, and 60 mm apart for the female.]

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.]

This should be determined immediately so the crayfish can be returned to its original position. If you don't, it could result in harm from the sun, wind, or attacks from predators as they attempt to return to safety.

[Crayfish are shown in small crevices under rocks and coral.]

Once you have caught and measured your crayfish, it's best to protect them from the sun and wind.

[A crayfish is placed in a bag.]

If you aren't able to prepare them immediately, place them in a cool chilly bin with ice, keeping in mind that preparing the crayfish should be done as soon as possible.

[A crayfish is placed in a chilly bin. It's then moved directly, wrapped in newspaper, from the chilly bin to a freezer.]
Research has shown that the most humane way to kill a crayfish is to place it in the freezer for 30 minutes prior to boiling.

By following these tips we will be able to enjoy crayfish for many years to come.

For rules in your area, go to your local Ministry of Fisheries office or visit www.fish.govt.nz

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

]

A Guide to Potting

[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
]

 

Report poaching

Report poaching, suspicious, or illegal activity – call 0800 4 POACHER (0800 47 62 24) or email poacher@mpi.govt.nz.

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.

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