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The Best (and Worst) Seafood to Eat When in New Zealand


Make good choices!

Getting some classic New Zealand  fish and chips and don’t know what to try? Stocking up on tuna cans to get you through a hike or treating yourself to some local cuisine? Here’s a guide to help you decide while making some eco-friendly choices on the best and worst seafood to eat when in New Zealand.

In a country where fish and chips are a Kiwi favourite, you know that you have to try the seafood when backpacking in New Zealand. So we’ve put together the best fish to try, not only for its taste but because they are the most sustainable. Choosing environmentally-friendly and sustainable seafood encourages New Zealand’s fishing and aquaculture industries to use better fishing practices. In turn, your choices will restore the health of the oceans, lakes and rivers. Winner!

This is also a guide if you are recreationally fishing in New Zealand, so you know what’s good to eat. Remember to stick to fishing laws, which you can read more about in our fishing in New Zealand guide.

Quick ways to check if you are buying ENVIRONMENTALLY-friendly seafood

  • If they can’t tell you what fish species it is, don’t buy it.
  • Eat the best seafood choices in New Zealand. (See our list below and the full list at Best Fish Guide).
  • Avoid eating the least sustainable seafood in New Zealand. (Again, see list below).
  • Check the origins of the seafood. Is it from a sustainable area? The info is mentioned below.
  • Avoid buying seafood caught using damaging methods like bottom trawls, dredges and gill nets.
  • Note that land-based farming tends to have a lower impact than sea farming.

And when out on the water getting seafood yourself, take a look at What You Need to Know About Fishing in New Zealand for making good choices.

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 Naotake Murayama on Flickr

The best seafood to eat in New Zealand

Here’s what is considered the best seafood to eat in New Zealand when looking to make sustainable food choices.

Green-lipped mussels – The native species are the backbone of the New Zealand aquaculture industry so you know these are definitely a sustainable choice to eat no matter where in New Zealand they were farmed. They are said to have many health benefits, especially for inflammatory diseases, asthma and stomach ailments.

Pacific oysters – The northern South Island is the best place to try Pacific oysters.

Paua – Try paua in the northern North Island for the best sustainable choice. Not only do they make a delicious New Zealand delicacy, but their shells have been used in Maori art for centuries.

Albacore tuna – This is a highly versatile tuna so try it in your sandwiches or as a main course treat.

Cockles – Known in Maori as tuangi, cockles are a traditional New Zealand food. They are full of goodness like vitamin A, calcium, iron, zinc and potassium, but they are small so you’ll want to eat about 30 before feeling full.

Kahawai – Kahawai is a favourite to catch for anglers in New Zealand. Eat the day after the catch for the best texture results.

Blue cod – Going down to Bluff or Stewart Island in the very south of the South Island? Don’t order fish and chips without blue cod! Nevertheless, the species is sustainable all over New Zealand. [Update: blue cod is no longer sustainable in the Marlborough region].

Pilchards – Ok, so many people put this species under the category of fish bait. It’s not the prettiest fish but it still tastes pretty good. Better yet, it is one of the most sustainable choices in New Zealand.

Anchovies – You either love them or hate them. Anchovies are particularly used in Asian dishes, to which New Zealand has a lot of great Asian restaurants.

Kina – This is a messy one but a traditional treat in New Zealand. Kina is a sea urchin where you need to crack open the shell and scoop the roe out with a spoon.

Yellow-eyed mullet – Also known as herrings, the yellow-eyed mullet is only found in New Zealand and southern Australia. It goes great on the barbecue, and all the more rewarding if you manage to catch one yourself.

Rock lobster (crayfish) – One of New Zealand’s most famous dishes! A full crayfish can be pretty expensive (around NZ$80), but if you are a keen spear fisherman, get in the water and get one yourself. Kaikoura in the South Island has claimed to be the best place in New Zealand for crayfish, which is marked with the town’s giant crayfish sculpture.

Salmon – Mmm, salmon. The best place to try salmon in New Zealand is the freshwater salmon from the central South Island.

Skipjack tuna – This is a common tuna species in New Zealand’s tuna cans and highly sustainable.

 Brian Gratwicke on Flickr

The worst seafood to Eat in New Zealand

In terms of unsustainable food choices, here’s a list of some of the worst seafood to eat in New Zealand.

Porbeagle shark – Being slow-growing with low reproductive capacity makes the porbeagle shark a very poor seafood choice!

Oreos – You can eat as many of the cookies as your body can stand, but do avoid eating oreos (deepwater dory). They live up to 150 years and grow slowly making them vulnerable to fishing pressure.

Mako shark – Don’t go eating a mako shark. Simple.

Snapper – As a common seafood choice all over the world, snapper might be surprising to see on this list. However, their slow growing and life of up to 60 years makes them vulnerable to overfishing. An alternative sustainable choice is trevally or kingfish.

Southern bluefin tuna – Avoid eating this endangered species of tuna.

Rays bream – There are concerns about how removing this species impacts the oceanic food web and how the fishing method is damaging to sharks, seabirds, turtles and fur seals.

Arrow squid – The fishing method of trawling is particularly damaging to endangered New Zealand sea lions, seals, seabirds and other fish species. Bottom trawling also impacts the seabed and its ecosystem.

Blue shark – Their slow growing and long life make fishing unsustainable, plus, they are caught in tuna longline fishing and mostly taken for their valuable fin while the rest of the shark is dumped at sea.

Other ways to be an eco-backpacker

It’s easy! Just eat these articles up with your eyes.

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