Grey mullet have a worldwide distribution and Aotearoa is at the southern limit of their range.

Grey mullet have a worldwide distribution and Aotearoa is at the southern limit of their range.

Common name: Grey mullet Scientific name: Mugil cephalus Māori names: includes kanae

About this species

Kanae is a fish found in northern Aotearoa waters. This fish can be found inland as far as access permits and they have been found at the base of the Karāpiro Dam (the first of the hydro-dams on the Waikato River). Kanae are generally a fish of the ocean and, although adults are commonly found in freshwaters, they must return to the ocean to spawn. Within freshwaters they are restricted to lowland habitats and barriers to migration may prevent kanae entering good quality habitats.

Grey mullet feed on detritus and plant material that they suck from the substrate. They are also known to feed by grazing the surfaces of aquatic plants.

Traditional knowledge

Kanae were considered to be a highly nutritious and attractive food source for northern Māori. There are records of the fish being captured by paddling canoes close to shore banks were startled fish would jump out of the water, sometimes into canoes. Fish could also be captured by spearing and gaffing.

Impacts on kanae

A traditional fishery of kanae in Lake Taharoa suffered from the construction of a dam. While a fish pass was built at this site, it did not allow passage for kanae, leading to the disappearance of the fishery. This illustrates the importance of passage and the impact that poorly placed or designed barriers have on fisheries within Aotearoa.

In Aotearoa most of the grey mullet commercial catch comes from the Kaipara and Manukau Harbors, and in the lower reaches of the Waikato River. Tagging studies have shown that commercial and recreation fishers extract a significant proportion of the grey mullet population. 

References and further reading

Find papers relevant to all Aotearoa freshwater fish on our reference page

Grey mullet (kanae). [NIWA]