NIWA is at the forefront of kingfish aquaculture research and is rapidly developing the commercial-scale production technology needed to capitalise on this potentially lucrative market.
Scientific name: Seriola lalandi lalandi
Māori names: kahu, haku
Yellowtail kingfish are widely distributed throughout the warm–temperate waters of the southern hemisphere. New Zealand kingfish, also known as kingi or yellowtail, are found from the Kermadec Islands to Banks Peninsula during the summer months. In the wild they can reach 1.7 m in length and weigh 56 kg. Their long and streamlined bodies are greeny blue on the dorsal surface shading to silvery white beneath. The common name “yellowtail” comes from their bright yellow fins (particularly the caudal fin), but they also have a distinctive golden brown stripe running laterally from the snout to the tail. They are rapacious carnivores, feeding mainly on small pelagic fish such as trevally, piper and garfish. Yellowtail is a highly prized gamefish, for which New Zealand currently holds the most International Game Fish Association (IGFA) world records.
Why are kingfish farmed?
Commercial catches of New Zealand kingfish are small, seasonal and unpredictable and they are not included in the Quota Management System (QMS). Closely related species are farmed overseas, so aquaculture of the New Zealand species can provide a reliable and controlled production of kingfish to supply growing domestic and international markets. NIWA’s research has identified kingfish as an ideal aquaculture species because it is highly valuable (earning up to $17 per kilogram on the European market), has a rapid growth rate (reaching marketable size of 3 kg in 12–15 months), is amenable to aquaculture conditions, has excellent flesh quality for a range of product options (such as whole fillets, sushi and the highly valued sashimi) and has significant domestic and international market opportunities. Kingfish is also a high-value recreational species and a traditional food source for Māori.
How are kingfish farmed?
Japan has a long and successful history of farming Seriola species and currently produces around 150,000 tonnes per annum. This industry largely relies on wild-catching of the fry, which are then on-grown in sea cages, with just a small volume produced from artificially reared juveniles. However, hatchery production of kingfish is well now established in South Australia, involving broodstock conditioning, controlled spawning, larval rearing, and juvenile production for on-growing in seacages.
How is NIWA research helping kingfish aquaculture?
We have developed commercial-scale hatchery production technology for kingfish that will allow New Zealand to capitalise on this potentially lucrative opportunity. Our hatchery capability means we can now produce 500,000 kingfish fingerlings per year from our facility in Northland, which would meet the needs of the early stages of an industry in New Zealand.
Because we have achieved this for New Zealand's aquaculture sector we can now focus our research from hatchery technology to on-growing technology and specifically Recirculating Aquaculture Systems (RAS) and selective breeding to support the industry's development and its future competitiveness.
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