There are many commercially significant whitefish species available to the global seafood market. While hoki (Macruronus novazelandiae) may not be the first that springs to mind, it is one of the most important.
Hoki is New Zealand’s most abundant fish species and the backbone of its deepsea fishing industry, with annual landings totalling 160,000 tonnes in 2014. Most of the catch is exported to key markets such as the EU, the United States, China, Japan and Australia.
But it is not just the volume harvested that sets New Zealand hoki apart. It is celebrated for being something of a sustainability game-changer: it became the world’s first large whitefish stock to receive the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) eco-label when it was first certified according to the standard in 2001. Re-certification was achieved in 2007 and again in 2013.
IDENTITY AND HABITAT
A member of the hake family, hoki is also sometimes referred to as blue grenadier, blue hake, whiptails, whiptail hake or New Zealand whiting. In terms of appearance, the fish are easy to recognise due to their long, wedge-shaped bodies that become narrower at the tail. They have slim fins and a blue-green to silver colour. Hoki also have large eyes and the classic protruding jaw associated with hake and cod.
Hoki tend to live in depths of 300 to 600 metres and feed on small crustaceans. They reproduce in large numbers, which means that stocks stay relatively stable. They also mature quite rapidly to reach adulthood in around four years, and grow to a size of up to 1.5 metres and a weight of 3.5 kg.
New Zealand’s hoki fishery consists of an eastern stock and a western stock. Scientific research is carried out on each, and separate catch limits apply as part of the overall species catch limit set annually by the Minister of Fisheries and Aquaculture.
Hoki fishing takes place at several grounds around the country, including the Stewart-Snares shelf south of Stewart Island, the subantarctic, the west coast of the South Island, Cook Strait and the Chatham Rise east of the South Island.
Trawlers catch the fish year-round, but the main season runs from June to September.
The species is also found in far lesser numbers off the coast of South Australia.
Between 2001 and 2007, New Zealand’s hoki catch limits were cut from 250,000 tonnes to 90,000 tonnes because fisheries scientists found there was a significant reduction in the number of young fish surviving long enough to reach adulthood. This was widely believed to have been caused by adverse environmental conditions.
However, both the eastern and western stocks of hoki have increased in size for the last eight consecutive years, and are now well within or above their management target range.
With continued high recruitment of young hoki into the fishery, the fishing industry widely expects that there will be further catch increases in the years ahead.