Land-based aquaculture brings haku to Northland

by | Jun 6, 2024 | Around NZ, News, Opinion

Alongside the rolling sand dunes in Northland’s Bream Bay, an award-winning fish is taking the culinary world by storm. And it’s coming to Northland’s Brew of Islands festival July 26th & 27th, to be washed down with a crisp, cold beer. Meet ‘Haku’! 

Globally, over three billion people consume seafood, but declines in wild fish stocks mean that more than half this fish is now produced by aquaculture. However, as our seas warm and acidify, and parasites and disease become more prevalent, operating in the ocean is increasingly problematic.

Luckily, science has come up with a solution: land-based aquaculture.

Where land meets sea

Land-based aquaculture isn’t anything new, but until recently, it had yet to be fully utilised in New Zealand. That is, until NIWA started researching how large numbers of fish could be produced in a sustainable way so everyone can enjoy them.

As New Zealand’s leading marine science organisation, NIWA understood the problems facing aquaculture and knew that land-based recirculating aquaculture systems (RAS) could provide the answer.

RAS are essentially giant aquariums that harvest fish from egg to plate. Using water treatment technologies, RAS minimise water use and maintain a perfect environment, where temperature can be altered, high oxygen sustained, pH tweaked, pathogens treated, and waste products removed. All of which improves the health, growth, and welfare of the fish.

They also increase long-term production, seasonality, diseases, and adverse weather don’t have an impact on the stock, which allows a reliable, continuous production. There is also a reduced environmental footprint because waste streams are treated and there is no risk of fish escaping and interbreeding with wild populations.

So, nearly 20 years after the idea was first spawned, NIWA began development of their RAS at the Northland Aquaculture Centre (NAC) in collaboration with Northland Regional Council. It has recently been completed and is currently the biggest in the Southern Hemisphere and Asia Pacific.

Located along the coastline of Ruakākā, year-round access to pristine water guarantees healthy growing conditions for their fish of choice: haku.


NIWA’s research found that haku, or yellowtail kingfish, were the best candidate to farm in land-based RAS. They are fast growing, able to reach the market size of three kilograms within 12 months of spawning, and they thrive in RAS; the circular tanks suit their natural schooling and feeding behaviour.

They are also prized for their high quality, rich creaminess, superior texture, and sweet flavour.

The hatchery at the Northland Aquaculture Centre can consistently produce 500,000 kingfish fingerlings per year, scalable up to one million. Multiple production broodstocks supply the hatchery with eggs, each with a different seasonal cycle so there is a year-round supply of eggs. An ongoing elite, multi-generational brood programme provides for continuous genetic improvement of the stocks.

For the first 20 days, the fish are fed live zooplankton and are then transitioned onto diets which have been specially formulated to meet their complete nutritional requirements. The diet adjusts subtly as the kingfish grow, ensuring the feed composition is perfectly formulated for their changing nutritional demands.

Animal welfare is also a top priority. Growth hormones/promoters or dyes are never used and the systems for exchanging and refreshing the water are engineered to ensure a consistent, healthy rearing environment. And, because land-based RAS affords full environmental control and exclusion of pathogens or parasites, medications are rarely needed.

NIWA’s newly built RAS system is designed to produce 600 tonnes of Haku Aotearoa New Zealand Kingfish a year.

A prized fish

In recent years, NIWA has been supplying premium Haku to high-end restaurants all over New Zealand and internationally. Product testing and feedback from early market adopters show that the haku has a remarkable shelf life and unquestionable quality.

Award winning chef Makoto Tokuyama of Ponsonby’s Cocoro Restaurant describes it as an excellently balanced fish and superior to the wild product.

Renowned chef Cameron Knox called it “incredibly versatile”, adding: “you can serve it as sashimi, roast it, poach it, whatever you like. It’s super sweet with flavour, but maintains its delicacy. In my opinion, it’s the best fish in the country, hands down.”

NIWA’s haku even received first place for the Best in Taste award in 2018 and was runner-up in 2019, as part of the Taste of Auckland festival.

It’s safe to say that the product is being well received.

This July, you won’t have to bag a reservation at a high-end restaurant to taste this culinary delight. NIWA’s haku will be making an appearance at Brew of Islands 2024, taking place on July 26th and 27th.

Festival organisers Tyler Bamber and Gerry Paul, both dedicated beer enthusiasts, have curated a festival that celebrates not only exceptional craft beer alongside incredible local cuisine, but also the unique Northland experience and manaakitanga for which the region is renowned. /

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