A High Court judge says the 11 years that the Department of Conservation took to fully process a permit application by southern eel fisherman Bruce Reay was far too long.
Mr Reay - who has commercially trapped eels in the Tasman and Fiordland areas for 30 years - applied for a concession in 1996 but a change to the Conservation Act in 2000 turned parts of his permitted area into conservation estate.
Mr Reay sought a judicial review to clarify if his permit allowed him to continue the commercial operation in a conservation estate.
There were further complications when eels were brought under the quota system in 2000.
Justice Panckhurst said it appeared Mr Reay's quota rights were given with one hand, but taken away with the other and that 11 years was an extraordinary time for a decision to be reached.