Predominantly found in New Zealand, but also caught in waters around Souther Australia and off the Pacific and Atlantic coasts of South America, hoki is a very flexible and affordable wild-caught white fish that’s well liked by a growing number of consumers and professional kitchens all over the world.
Part of hoki’s appeal also comes from the fact that its high fat content means that it offers slightly more flavour than many other whitefish species. It also produces succulent, medium-sized flakes when cooked.
Fresh hoki is widely marketed in New Zealand and Australia, while in international markets, it is most commonly sold in frozen fillet formats. Alongside, cod and Alaska pollock, it’s also one of the three main fish used by McDonalds in the highly popular Filet-O-Fish sandwich, which is where many consumers encounter it for the first time.
Long and sleek
While hoki is the fish’s most common name, people also know the species as blue grenadier, blue hake, New Zealand whiptail, whiptail or whiptail hake. Its scientific name is Macruronus novaezelandiae, and, as its alternative names suggest, it’s part of the hake family.
In wild-capture fisheries, these fast-maturing fish are long and sleek, measuring up to around 1.3 metres in length and are found at depths of 10-1,000 metres – feeding mainly on small crustaceans.
Their body colour is pale blue-green above, silver on the sides and belly, and the fins are darker.
Hoki is New Zealand’s largest commercial fish species in volume terms. The fish are caught all year round at several grounds around the country by midwater and bottom trawl, with the peak season typically taking place between May and August.
Over the past two decades, New Zealand’s hoki landings have ranged from 90,000 to 250,000 tonnes, with catch limit adjustments made to maintain the population’s health. Each year, scientists have to estimate the size of the stock because the species grows and reproduces so quickly. Water temperatures and the previous year’s catch can also influence hoki numbers from year-to-year.
According to Fisheries New Zealand, the hoki quota was worth more than €850 million in 2018, with exports of the fish contributing €140 million to the country’s economy.
Traditionally, most New Zealand hoki is exported to key markets such as the EU, United States, China, Japan and Australia.
New Zealand’s hoki fishery is actually managed as two stocks; an eastern stock and a western stock, with scientific research carried out on both and separate catch limits applied to each as part of the overall quota set annually by the Minister of Fisheries.
But it’s not just the abundance that sets New Zealand hoki apart; the fish is also celebrated for being something of a sustainability game-changer as it was the world’s first large whitefish stock to achieve the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) eco-label, when it was first certified to the standard in 2001. Re-certification was achieved in 2007, 2012 and again in 2018.