In pre-European times the Maori was a subsistence fisherman, catching marine fish with seine nets made of flax, or with lines; eels and lampreys with pots set in weirs; and whitebait and other species in nets. Shellfish were collected from the beaches and the shore. Prior to European settlement whales and seals were taken, seals between 1816 and 1840, by which time they had almost disappeared. The first shore whaling station was established in 1827, and in 1844 whale oil and other products were valued at some £50,000 on the London markets. Following European settlement, fishing for demersal species expanded as the population increased, the industry at first providing fish for local consumption only but, later, for export as well.
Today, trawling, Danish seining, and fishing by nets and by lines are the principal methods of taking the ordinary marine food fish, while crayfish are mainly caught in baskets or pots, and oysters, mussels, and scallops are taken in dredges. Other fishing methods are used in the case of whitebait which are taken in special nets in the lower reaches of many rivers, whereas rock oysters, paua, and toheroa are picked by hand. Together all these products and the merchandising of them comprise the fishing industry. The whaling industry with one station in Marlborough at Tory Channel, has ceased operations.