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South Island Customary Fishing Regulations 1999


This user guide explains how the Fisheries (South Island Customary Fishing) Regulations 1999 work. The regulations have been developed since the passing of the Treaty of Waitangi (fisheries claims) Settlement Act 1992.

This guide is not a complete summary of the customary fishing regulations.  You should be aware there may be changes to these regulations from time to time.


What do the customary fishing regulations cover?

The regulations cover non-commercial customary fishing; they do not provide for commercial fishing.  They do not remove the right of Tangata Whenua to catch their recreational limits under the amateur fishing regulations.

Anyone who is given permission to take fish under the customary fishing regulations cannot trade the fish, exchange the fish for money or accept any form of payment.

When do the customary regulations apply?

The regulations only apply in an area when the Minister responsible for the regulations has confirmed the appointment of Tangata Tiaki/Kaitiaki as notified by the Tangata Whenua for that area.  Until that happens, the only rule allowing the taking of fish for customary purposes is regulation 50 of the Fisheries (Amateur Fishing) Regulations 2013.  

These customary fishing regulations do not apply in the North Island or Chatham Islands.  Here, the Fisheries (Kaimoana Customary Fishing) Regulations 1998 apply.

The customary fishing regulations apply to all fisheries resources managed under the Fisheries Act. This does not include species managed under the Conservation Act, such as whitebait and mudfish.

Appointing Tangata Kaitiaki/Tiaki

Who are Tangata/Kaitiaki?

Tangata Tiaki/Kaitiaki are individuals or groups who can authorise customary fishing within their rohe moana, in accordance with tikanga Maori.  Their appointments area confirmed by the Minister responsible for the regulations after notification by the Tangata Whenua.  Tangata Whenua is defined as the whanau, hapu or iwi, who hold manawhenua manamoana over a particular area.

Who decides who will be the Tangata Tiaki/Kaitiaki of a particular area?

Tangata Whenua notify their Tangata Tiaki/Kaitiaki to the Minister of Fisheries.  The Minister will then publish details of the notification.  If there are no disputes, the Minister will confirm the appointments.

What if there is a dispute over a notification or over who holds Tangata Whenua status?

Before Tangata Tiaki/Kaitiaki are appointed, Tangata Whenua must decide who holds manawhenua manamoana for the area concerned. Disputes over Tangata Whenua status, or over a notification for a Tangata Tiaki/Kaitiaki or the boundaries for the area concerned, must be resolved by the Tangata Whenua groups concerned before the Minister can confirm the appointment of the Tangata Tiaki/Kaitiaki.

What are the options available to resolve disputes?

The Tangata Whenua notifying the Tangata Tiaki/Kaitiaki and the party disputing the notification must agree on how they wish to resolve any dispute.  They may wish to convene a hui or choose another process consistent with tikanga Maori.  If the Tangata Whenua parties are unable to resolve a dispute, they must take it to an authority agreed to by the parties for settlement.  This authority could be an independent arbitrator or the Maori Land Court for example.  The arbitrator must be acceptable to all parties involved in the dispute.

Is there a limit to the number of Tangata Tiaki/Kaitiaki for an area?

No.  The regulations allow more than one Tangata Tiaki/Kaitiaki to be appointed for a particular area.  For example, Tangata Whenua may wish to appoint all members of a marae committee as Tangata Tiaki/Kaitiaki.

What happens if a Tangata Tiaki/Kaitiaki is ill or unavailable?

Subject to the approval of the Tangata Whenua and with prior notice to the Minister of Fisheries, Tangata Tiaki/Kaitiaki can delegate their powers to any other member of the Tangata Whenua of that particular customary food gathering area.

How can the appointment of a Tangata Tiaki/Kaitiaki be cancelled?

The appointment of a Tangata Tiaki/Kaitiaki will be cancelled on the request of either the Tangata Tiaki/Kaitiaki themselves or the Tangata Whenua who notified them.  The Minister responsible for the regulations may also cancel the appointment of a Tangata Tiaki/Kaitiaki, after consultation with the Tangata Whenua, if the actions of the Tangata Tiaki/Kaitiaki threaten the sustainability of the fisheries within their area (see Powers of the Minister).

Powers and Responsibilities of the Tangata Tiaki/Kaitiaki

Who has the power to authorise customary fishing?

Only the Tangata Tiaki/Kaitiaki have the power to authorise customary fishing in their appointed area.

What information must be specified on every customary fishing authorisation?

Every customary fishing authorisation must specify the following information:

  • The date(s) when fishing is to occur
  • who will be taking the fish
  • species of fish to be caught
  • the quantity and size limit of each species to be caught
  • the fishing method for each species
  • the area where fishing is to occur
  • the purpose and venue for which the fish are needed
  • any other matters the Tangata Tiaki/Kaitiaki considers necessary, including what to do with any by-catch

Is there a standard form for customary fishing authorisations?

Yes. All authorisations must be made on the specified authorisation form supplied to all the Tangata Kaitiaki/Tiaki by the Ministry of Fisheries.

Is there a scope for alternative forms of authorisation?

Yes. The customary fishing regulations allow alternative form of authorisation subject to agreement between the Tangata Tiaki/Kaitiaki and the Chief Executive of the Ministry of Fisheries. Any alternative form of authorisation must specify the same information as required on the approved form. The Tangata Kaitiaki/Tiaki must keep a record of any alternative forms of authorisation.

Can authorisation be issued after fishing has taken place?

No. Not under any circumstances.

Do customary fishers have to carry their authorisations with them?

Yes, Customary fishers must produce their written authorisations, or evidence of any alternative form of authorisation, to a Fishery Officer on request. The authorisation should accompany the fish to the place where it will be used.

Can non-maori apply for a customary fishing authorisation?

Yes. Customary fishing rights not only govern access to fish, they determine the right to manage fishing activity. The right belongs to the Tangata Whenua - those Maori holding traditional authority over a particular area. The principle of manaakitanga, or ‘looking after one’s neighbours’, is a major part of customary practice. If the Tangata Tiaki/Kaitiaki decides it is appropriate to issue a customary fishing authorisation to someone who is not Tangata Whenua, they are able to do so.

What are the main responsibilities of Tangata Tiaki/Kaitiaki?

The main responsibilities are:

  • to issue authorisations for customary fishing
  • to give directions to customary fishers on the use of their authorisations
  • to keep accurate records of authorisations they issue, and the quantities of fish taken under each authorisation
  • to take part in fisheries management processes run by the Ministry of Fisheries, such as setting total allowable catches and developing regulation to manage wider fishing activity
  • to prepare management plans, for approval by the Tangata Whenua, that may guide the issuing of authorisations for the rohe moana
  • to meet with Tangata Whenua each year and report to them on:
    • how customary fishing has been managed during the previous year
    • the number of authorisations granted that year
    • any restrictions, such as rahui, in force for that year
    • the number of mataitai reserves in the rohe moana and any bylaws in effect within those reserves
    • any other matters regarding customary fishing
  • to report to the Ministry of Fisheries every quarter providing a summary of information on the authorisation including:
    • species authorised for harvest
    • quantity of that species authorised for harvest
    • quantity of that species actually harvested
    • where the species was harvested (quota or fishery management area)
  • to show records of authorisations to any Fishery Officer investigating offences against the regulations.

Responsibilities of Fishers

Important Information for Users of Authorisations

When Tangata Tiaki/Kaitiaki issue customary fishing authorisations they should make sure the recipients are fully aware of their responsibilities and the legal requirements.
The key points are:

  • anyone taking fish under Tangata Tiaki/Kaitiaki authorisation must have the authorisation with them when fishing
  • if circumstances change, fishers must contact the issuing Tangata Tiaki/Kaitiaki - authorisations must not be changed
  • authorisations must be shown to Fishery Officers or Honorary Fishery Officers on request
  • a customary fisher must comply with the details on the authorisation, such as quantities, size limits etc. for each species authorised
  • anyone taking fish under an authorisation must report the actual quantities taken to the Tangata Tiaki/Kaitiaki within five days of fishing.

In summary, customary fishers must have an authorisation from a Tangata Tiaki/Kaitiaki with them at the time of fishing, and must comply with all instructions and conditions on the authorisation.

Can customary fishing be carried out from a commercial fishing vessel?

Yes, provided an authorisation has been obtained beforehand. If a person is given an authorisation to take fish for customary purposes and is also fishing under a commercial fishing permit on the same trip, the fish taken for customary purposes must be kept in separate containers that clearly identify the fish being taken for customary purposes.

If the fish is not kept in separate containers, it will be considered to have been taken without the authority of the customary fishing regulations, and fishers could be charged with offences under the amateur or commercial fishing regulations.

Planning for Customary Fisheries Management

Can Tangata Tiaki/Kaitiaki take part in wider fisheries management processes?

Tangata Tiaki/Kaitiaki can take part in the fisheries management processes run by the Ministry of Fisheries. Tangata Whenua can have a say in the management of their customary fisheries, including the activities of commercial and recreational fishers that might affect their ability to catch fish for customary purposes.

What information does the Ministry of Fisheries provide to the Tangata Tiaki/Kaitiaki?

Information on the quantities of fish being caught by commercial and recreational fishers, as well as any research findings and sustainability information on the fisheries within their rohe, can be provided to Tangata Tiaki/Kaitiaki by the Ministry.

What information does the Tangata Tiaki/Kaitiaki provide to the Ministry of Fisheries?

Tangata Tiaki/Kaitiaki provide a quarterly summary of the quantity authorised and actually taken of each species in each management area.

What will the information be used for?

The main concern of everyone involved in fisheries management is sustaining the fishery and minimising the effects of fishing on the environment.

Information collected from customary fishing authorisations is important in helping manage our fisheries.

The information provided through the customary fishing regulations will keep Tangata Tiaki/Kaitiaki informed on the state of the fisheries in their area. This will help them develop management plans to ensure fish can be caught now and in the future.

The information will also enable the Minister of Fisheries to make decisions on how much fish is needed to provide for non-commercial customary purposes before making an allowance for recreational fishing, and allocating the remainder of the total allowable catch as commercial quota.

What is an iwi planning document?

Tangata Tiaki/Kaitiaki may decide to develop management plans for the fisheries within their rohe for approval by the Tangata Whenua. These plans are called ‘Iwi Planning Documents’ for the purposes of the Resource Management Act. Under the Fisheries Act, plans can also be used for the development of sustainability measures for those fisheries in the rohe of the Tangata Whenua.

Establishment of Mataitai Reserves

What is a mataitai Reserve?

Mataitai reserves are areas where the Tangata Whenua manage all non-commercial fishing by making bylaws. Bylaws apply equally to all individuals. Reserves can only be applied for over traditional fishing grounds, and must be areas of special significance to the Tangata Whenua. Generally there is no commercial fishing within these reserves.

Who can apply for a mataitai reserve?

Only the Tangata Whenua who notified the Tangata Tiaki/Kaitiaki or the Tangata Tiaki/Kaitiaki, whose appointments were subsequently confirmed by the Minister of Fisheries, can apply for a mataitai reserve in any part of their rohe moana.

Who must be consulted on a mataitai reserve application?

When a mataitai reserve application is received, the Minister of Fisheries must publish details of the application twice in a newspaper circulating in the area of the proposed reserve.  The notice invites written submissions on the application from the local community in that area.  After the closing date for submissions, the Minister and the Tangata Whenua consult the local community at a publicly notified meeting.

The regulations define 'local community' as people who own land in the proximity of the proposed Mataitai reserve, or people who have been resident in the area for at least three months in the preceding three years.  The Tangata Whenua may amend their application following consultation with the local community.

Do fishers have the right to make submissions on mataitai reserve applications?

Yes.  After consulting the local community and learning of any changes the Tangata Whenua have made to the application, the Minister of Fisheries must advertise the application and call for submissions from persons who own quota or fish in the area of the proposed mataitai reserve.

What happens if concerns are raised about a mataitai reserve application?

If the Minister of Fisheries has concerns regarding a mataitai reserve application, these issues can be discussed with the applicant before the Minister makes a final decision.  The Tangata Whenua and the Minister may agree on conditions for the reserve in order to address issues raised in any submissions.  This will increase the likelihood of applications meeting the necessary criteria, gaining final approval and being effective.

What criteria must me met for a mataitai reserve to be approved?

The Minister of Fisheries approves a mataitai reserve application when satisfied the following criteria have been met: 

  • a special relationship exists between Tangata Whenua and the area of the proposed mataitai reserve
  • the proposed reserve is a traditional fishing ground
  • the proposed reserve is of a size appropriate to effective management by the Tangata Whenua
  • the general management aims are consistent with the sustainable use of the fisheries resources in the area
  • the proposed mataitai reserve is not a marine reserve
  • the Minister and the Tangata Whenua agree on conditions to address the
    concerns of submitters

The Minister of Fisheries must also be satisfied that the mataitai reserve will not:

  • unreasonably affect the ability of the local community to take fish for non-commercial purposes
  • prevent persons with a commercial interest in a species from taking their quota or annual catch entitlement within the quota management area for that species
  • prevent persons with a commercial fishing permit for a non-quota species from taking fish within the fisheries management area for which that permit has been issued

The criteria take account of the fact that a mataitai reserve could have impacts on other users of the fishery, such as commercial fishers or the local community. As long as commercial fishers and the local community are able to fish successfully in other parts of the quota or fisheries management area, the Minister must approve the application.

Once a mataitai reserve has been declared, details must be published in the Gazette.  The minister must then confirm the appointment of Tangata Tiaki/Kaitiaki chosen by Tangata Whenua to manage the mataitai reserve.

Is the overall number of mataitai reserves taken into account by the Minister of Fisheries?

The Minister will take into account any other mataitai reserves within the quota or fisheries management areas when the potential effects of any new application are assessed. So, while the first applications for reserves within a particular area may be approved, later applications may not.

Tangata Whenua organisations should work with neighbouring Tangata Whenua and local communities on the development of their mataitai reserve applications. This will help ensure reserves are spread evenly around the coast, and everyone’s needs are met. 

Management of Mataitai Reserves

Who manages fishing within Mataitai reserves and how?

Non-commercial fishing in mataitai reserves is managed by Tangata Tiaki/Kaitiaki through bylaws. If no bylaws have been made, the amateur fishing regulations apply.

What can bylaws cover?

Bylaws can cover the following matters:

  • species that can be taken
  • quantity of each species that can be taken
  • size limits relating to each species to be taken
  • the method by which each species can be taken
  • area(s) in which the species can be taken
  • any other matters the Tangata Tiaki/Kaitiaki consider necessary for the sustainable management of fisheries resources.

Who do mataitai reserve bylaws apply to?

Bylaws apply equally to all individuals, Maori and Non-Maori.

How are bylaws made, and do fishers have the opportunity to make submissions?

Any bylaw has to be made available for public inspection and submissions. Bylaws proposed by the Tangata Tiaki/Kaitiaki are placed in the nearest Ministry of Fisheries’ office, and at a location near the proposed reserve.

Notification of a bylaw is made in a newspaper circulating in the area. Interested parties have a minimum of 15 working days to make submissions on any proposed bylaw. The Tangata Tiaki/Kaitiaki may amend the bylaw in light of any submissions received.

The Tangata Tiaki/Kaitiaki must then submit the bylaw, with reasons why they feel the bylaw is necessary, to the Minister of Fisheries. The Minister may approve the bylaw if satisfied it:

  • is deemed necessary or desirable by the Tangata Tiaki/Kaitiaki for the sustainable management of the fish in that mataitai reserve
  • has been properly deposited with the Ministry for public viewing and submissions
  • is consistent with the stated management aims or conditions of the mataitai reserve application.

How are fishers made aware of what bylaws are in place for a mataitai reserve?

Bylaws approved by the Minister of Fisheries are notified in the Gazette and published in a newspaper circulating in the locality of the mataitai reserve. Information will be made available to ensure all people fishing within reserves know of the bylaws that apply within those areas.

What about customary fishing authorisations for fishing in mataitai reserves?

While a bylaw may close a particular fishery to individual fishers, or restrict or prohibit the taking of a particular species, the Tangata Tiaki/Kaitiaki may still allow customary fishing for marae-based purposes. If there is a limited amount of fish that can be harvested sustainably, the needs of the local marae take precedence over those of individual fishers.

Is commercial fishing allowed within mataitai reserves?

Generally, commercial fishing is prohibited within a mataitai reserve. The exception to this is where the Tangata Tiaki/Kaitiaki proposes to the Minister of Fisheries that a commercial harvest be allowed for specified species and quantities of fish, for a specified period.

The Minister must then consult with Tangata Whenua and representatives of people with an interest in the fishstock, and may recommend the making of regulation to enable a commercial harvest to take place. 

Any commercial harvest would be conducted under the provisions of the Fisheries Act, and any relevant commercial fishing regulations. The harvest would only be open to those with a commercial entitlement to fish the relevant species within the wider area.

Can Tangata Tiaki/Kaitiaki enhance fishstocks in mataitai reserves?

Yes. The Tangata Tiaki/Kaitiaki of a mataitai reserve may authorise the transfer of fish within the reserve, regardless of any bylaws in place, in order to enhance the fishstocks in the reserve. 

Powers of the Minister of Fisheries

What assistance does the Minister provide to Tangata Tiaki/Kaitiaki?

The Minister must provide Tangata Tiaki/Kaitiaki with the necessary information and assistance to properly administer the regulations. This includes providing published research material and information on the management of fisheries in their areas. In most cases the processes described in the customary regulations are obligations for the Minister to carry out.

Can the Tangata Whenua intervene in the management of customary fishing by Tangata Tiaki/Kaitiaki?

Yes. The Tangata Whenua can cancel the appointment of any Tangata Tiaki/Kaitiaki notified by them making a written statement to the Minister of Fisheries. The Minister will then appoint another Tangata Tiaki/Kaitiaki notified by the Tangata Whenua for that area.

Can the Minister intervene in the management of customary fishing by Tangata Tiaki/Kaitiaki?

Yes. The Minister can intervene in the management by a Tangata Tiaki/Kaitiaki, after consultation with the Tangata Whenua, when the actions of the Tangata Tiaki/Kaitiaki are affecting the sustainability of the fishery in the rohe moana for which they are responsible, or if a mataitai reserve is being managed nonsustainably. The Minister can also intervene if the Tangata Tiaki/Kaitiaki are not meeting their requirement under the customary regulations.

On an issue when the Minister deems it appropriate to intervene, the Minister must provide advice and assistance to the Tangata Tiaki/Kaitiaki to help them resolve the problem.

If the Tangata Tiaki/Kaitiaki cannot or will not follow the Minister’s advice, the Minister and Tangata Kaitiaki/Tiaki will have to carry out the strategy.

If the Tangata Kaitiaki/Tiaki fail to carry out the strategy, the Minister and Tangata Whenua must develop a management strategy to sustainably manage the fishery, and the Tangata Tiaki/Kaitiaki will have to carry out the strategy.

If the Tangata Tiaki/Kaitiaki fail to carry out the management strategy, the Minister must notify the Tangata Whenua and may cancel the appointment of the Tangata Tiaki/Kaitiaki. 

Offences and Penalties

What constitutes an offence under the customary fishing regulations?

It is an offence for any person to gather or possess fish for customary purposes unless:

  • they have been authorised by a Tangata Tiaki/Kaitiaki for the area from which the fish is to taken and they are in possession of that authorisation at the time of fishing 
  • they are taking fish according to the instructions of the Tangata Tiaki/Kaitiaki as specified on the authorisation and quantities take are reported back.

It is an offence to alter any authorisation granted by a Tangata Tiaki/Kaitiaki.

It is an offence to act in breach of any bylaws notified under the regulations in respect to any mataitai reserve.

What are the penalties for offences?

The first time a person is convicted of an offence against the regulations they will be liable to a fine of up to $10,000. Any subsequent conviction is liable to a fine of up to $20,000.

Note: Fishing activity of a commercial nature comes under the Fisheries Act, which allows for forfeiture of property and fines of up to $250,000.

Can hapu or iwi carry out enforcement under the customary regulations?

No.  The enforcement of the regulations remains the responsibility of the Crown, and is carried out by Fishery Officers or Honorary Fishery Officers employed by the Ministry of Fisheries.  The Ministry is working very closely with iwi and hapu to ensure they are involved in the process of employing both Fishery Officers and Honorary Fishery Officers, and that they have the opportunity to nominate people to fill those positions.

For further details of the Fisheries (South Island Customary Fishing) Regulations 1999 please contact the Ministry of Fisheries at one of the following locations:


For more information on rules and regulations governing all types of fishing contact your local ministry or fisheries office.

Call 0800 4 POACHER (0800 476 224) to report illegal fishing

Updated : 12 June 2014