Yellowtail kingfish

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About yellowtail kingfish

Scientific name: Seriola lalandi lalandi

Māori names: haku

Yellowtail kingfish are found throughout the warm–temperate waters of the southern hemisphere. Yellowtail kingfish, also known as haku, kingi or yellowtail, is found in New Zealand 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.

Yellowtail kingfish is also known as haku, kingi or yellowtail. [Photo: Crispin Middleton]

Crispin Middleton

Why farm yellowtail kingfish?

The species is an ideal candidate for commercial farming in NZ. NIWA’s research has shown that it is highly valuable (earning up to $17 per kilogram on the European market), has a rapid growth rate, 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). The species is commercially farmed at relatively low volumes in Australia and Europe, with commercial developments occurring in South and North America. However, current international demand far exceeds supply

How are yellowtail kingfish farmed?

Japan has a long and successful history of farming Seriola species and currently produces around 150,000 tonnes per annum. However, this industry largely relies on catching fry from the wild and on-growing them in sea cages with only a small volume being produced from captive-bred 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. Subsequent on-growing to harvest size is done in seacages and in a few places including in Europe (Denmark and Netherlands), in land-based tanks.

Juvenile kingfish. [NIWA]

How is NIWA research helping sustainable yellowtail 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 at the Northland Marine Research Centre (NMRC) at Ruakākā, can consistently produce 500,000 kingfish fingerlings per year, far exceeding i the needs of the early stages of an industry in New Zealand. We have also developed the necessary broodstock resources to maintain a sustainable industry. Our selective breeding programme which started with wild-caught fish now consists of over 60 families of captive-bred broodstock spread over three year classes.

NIWA’s research has found that kingfish are particularly well suited for farming in land-based recirculating aquaculture systems (RAS). They can reach the marketable size of 3.5 kg within 12 months. They are highly resilient, growing well at CO2 and ammonia levels commonly found in intensive land-based farms.

Our product testing and feedback from early market adopters show that the product has a remarkable shelf life and unquestionable quality. Our kingfish product received first place for the Best in Taste award in 2018 and as runner-up in 2019, as part of the Taste of Auckland festival.

NIWA has also been growing the capacity and expertise in RAS as a sustainable production system, particularly for kingfish. All of this contributed in providing the confidence to the Northland Regional Council (NRC) and central government through the Provincial Growth Fund (PGF) grant to partner with NIWA to build a commercial-scale kingfish RAS farm at NMRC. The initial module that will produce 600 mt of kingfish per year will act as a prototype to prove financial viability of the nascent industry. It is expected to be completed in 2021 and expanded to 3,000 mt production within five years.

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Kingfish at the Northland Marine Research Centre. [Photo: Stuart Mackay]


Aquaculture technician Michael Exton packs a freshly-harvested 4kg Ruakaka Kingfish in ice, ready for dispatch to the chef. [Photo: Stuart Mackay]


Yellowtail kingfish. [Photo: Pascale Otis]

Pascale Otis


Principal Technician - Northland Marine Research Centre Operations
Chief Scientist - Aquaculture & Biotechnology