Marlborough Sounds blue cod

The blue cod fishery in the Marlborough Sounds is one of the iconic recreational fisheries in New Zealand. However, there have been long-standing concerns about the sustainability of blue cod within the Sounds.

The fishery was closed in 2008, after NIWA survey results had shown blue cod in the Marlborough Sounds Area declined substantially (by an estimated average of 64 per cent) between 1995/96 and 2004. From 2004 to 2007, the population either continued to decline or remained at low levels in the inner, middle and outer parts of Queen Charlotte and Pelorus Sounds.

However, NIWA’s 2007 survey showed some improvement in the adult biomass, and preliminary results from their 2010 research support this.

The Minister of Fisheries and Aquaculture has now re-opened the recreational blue cod fishery in the Marlborough Sounds Area. New rules have also been introduced to allow recreational fishers to use the fishery while also helping ensure blue cod populations recover to a healthy state and support a sustainable fishery for the future. 

Go here to see the Decision Letter and Final Advice Paper 

Know the rules

The new blue cod season will be open annually from 20 December to 31 August. The following rules take effect from 1 April 2011:

Marlborough Sounds Area

  • Fishers can only take or possess 2 blue cod, with lengths between 30cm and 35cm, per person per day. This applies even if the fish was caught over more than one day, fished outside the Marlborough Sounds Area, or the fisher is transporting the fish through the area. See also “Landing blue cod caught outside the closed area”, below.
  • Blue cod must not be filleted before landing unless they are eaten immediately. Any cod eaten form part of the fisher’s daily limit.
  • No more than 2 hooks per fishing line when fishing for any finfish species (excluding longlines).

Fishers staying in baches or living aboard vessels are not exempt from these regulations and may only land or transport by sea 2 whole or gutted blue cod on any one day.

No take areas

  • No finfish of any species can be taken in the area around Maud Island (See the Maud Island map for further details about the boundaries of the no-take area.)
  • Fishing is also prohibited in the Long Island Marine Reserve and in Double Cove, Queen Charlotte Sound. For maps please go to closed and restricted areas.

Challenger East Area

  • Fishers can only take or possess 3 blue cod, 30 cm or longer.
  • When accumulating the daily bag limit, a fisher may have a maximum of 6 blue cod only at any one time, even if the fish were caught outside the area.
  • Blue cod must not be filleted before landing unless they are eaten immediately. Any cod eaten form part of the fisher’s daily limit.
  • Blue cod cannot be transported into/through the Marlborough Sounds Area unless it meets the regulations for that area, i.e. only 2 blue cod and each must be between 30cm and 35cm.

Good Fishing Practices for Fishers

Handling Blue Cod

When catching blue cod in the Marlborough Sounds Area, it is essential to return under- or oversized fish to the water as quickly as possible. To prevent the unnecessary death of the blue cod, the fisher should:

  • minimise the length of time fish are out of the water
  • measure fish immediately and return fish outside the size limits gently back to the sea
  • hold the fish behind the head to extract hooks
  • when handling fish, wear wet gloves and avoid placing the fish on hot, dry surfaces
  • cut the line if gut- or gill-hooked; do not use a gob stick.

Fishing Tackle

When choosing fishing tackle, use a hook that minimises mortality from hook damage.

Adobe PDF.  Download What hook should I use? poster (PDF 211KB)

For example:

  • Use larger hooks (6/0 mimimum) to prevent undersized fish from being hooked.
  • Use circle type hooks, preferably with no offset.
  • Pinch or remove the barb of hooks for easier extraction.
  • Take all your tackle and artificial baits home for disposal.


Released fish are more susceptible to predation by shags and barracouta. Therefore fishers should:

  • move locations if known predators are close by
  • use a downpipe to lower fish back into the water.


Blue cod are very vulnerable to localised depletion. Every fisher can play a part in the sustainability of the species by:

  • moving locations if you are repeatedly catching undersized fish
  • excluding blue cod as a category species in fishing competitions.

Adobe PDF.  Download the BCMG Suggested Code of Practice (PDF 225KB)

Landing blue cod caught outside the marlborough sounds area

The new rules specifically state that a fisher may not possess more than 2 blue cod, between 30 and 35cm in length, while they are inside the Marlborough Sounds Area, even if the fish were caught from outside the area or over a period of more than one day.

This rule is necessary to ensure that the Ministry can monitor and enforce compliance with the size and bag limits for the area. There is no way of clearly demonstrating where a particular fish has been caught as digital photos and GPS tracks are not reliable determinants of where fish were caught. Making the rules apply to fish caught elsewhere removes any incentives for fishers to exceed the Marlborough Sounds Area limits and helps to achieve the recovery that is needed.


Updated : 7 April 2011