The Arowhenua Runanga in the South Island want to make a fisheries area off the coast of Timaru which they have been harvesting for more than 500 years a mataitai reserve.
The areas, containing paua, crayfish, mussels and other shellfish, are from Washdyke Lagoon to Caroline Bay and from 500m north of Scarborough Road to Lagoon Drive.
Runanga chair John Henry said the reefs had been overfished for years by many groups, including Maori, and they had applied to make them mataitai through the Ministry for Primary Industries.
People come from as far as Oamaru to fish the area, which was why protection was critical, he said.
The area would be recognised as traditional Maori fishing ground with customary rights if the application was successful.