NIWA is at the forefront of kingfish aquaculture research and is readying for commercial production to capitalise on this potentially lucrative market.
Scientific name: Seriola lalandi lalandi
Māori names: kahu, haku
About yellowtail kingfish
Yellowtail kingfish are found throughout the warm–temperate waters of the southern hemisphere. The New Zealand kingfish, also known as kingi or yellowtail, is 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 up to 56 kg. The common name “yellowtail” comes from their bright yellow fins but they also have a distinctive golden-brown stripe running from the snout to the tail. They feed mainly on small fish such as trevally, piper and garfish. Kingfish is a traditional food source for Māori and a highly valued recreational species. New Zealand currently holds the most International Game Fish Association (IGFA) world records for this species.
Why farm kingfish?
Commercial catches of New Zealand kingfish are small, seasonal and unpredictable – and the supplies of the fish can be scarce. Closely-related species are successfully farmed overseas, so farming the New Zealand species would 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 3.5 kg in 12 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.
How are kingfish farmed?
Japan has a long and successful history of farming kingfish species and currently produces around 150,000 tonnes per annum. This industry largely relies on catching fry from the wild and on-growing them in sea cages. Just a small volume is produced from artificially reared juveniles. However, hatchery production of kingfish is now well established in Australia, Chile and Mexico involving broodstock conditioning, controlled spawning, larval rearing, and juvenile production for on-growing in seacages and land-based tanks.
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.