The government is considering signing up to two maritime treaties it says will improve the safety of large foreign fishing boats and their crews.
The agreements would govern boat design and safety, and crew training standards, on vessels 24 metres or longer.
Transport Ministry aviation and maritime general manager Nick Brown said current law meant New Zealand boats were compliant with the two treaties already.
But he said signing up would mean maritime officials could enforce those same standards for foreign vessels in local waters and ports.
"There's a very good reason for that, because our responsibility for search and rescue extends to a huge area just outside of our fishing area," Mr Brown said.
"We get drawn as a nation into helping out when things go wrong, so I think it's perfectly legitimate that we have the right to inspect these vessels when they come into port."
Separate legislation coming into effect next year meant foreign fishing vessels would have to adhere to New Zealand labour laws, he said.