Story: Seafood

There might be plenty of fish in the sea, but New Zealanders have not always been keen to eat them. Māori were accomplished fishermen, but the first British settlers preferred canned fish from home, or red meat. However, tastes are changing, and now a wide variety of seafood is enjoyed, from fish and chips to sashimi.

Story by Maggy Wassilieff
Main image: Robin White’s 1975 oil painting, ‘Fish and chips, Maketu’

Story Summary

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Early Māori diet

Before Europeans settled in New Zealand in 1840, Māori ate lots of fish – especially snapper, barracouta and red cod. Shellfish were also popular. Archaeologists have discovered the remains of shellfish such as pāua (abalone), pipi, mussels, limpets and cat’s eyes in ancient settlement sites.

Early European diet

When European settlers first came to New Zealand, they did not eat much seafood. They were used to the foods they had eaten in the United Kingdom and Europe, and preferred to send home for canned fish, or eat red meats such as mutton and beef.

By the 1930s, people of European descent still ate less seafood than Māori. Their recipes were basic – baked whole fish or fried fillets.

Favourite Kiwi fare

Fish and chips – from the working-class north of England – has been a firm Kiwi favourite since before the First World War.

Whitebait are young fish which swim into estuaries in spring. They are caught in nets and eaten whole in fritters. They are considered a delicacy.

Crayfish, kina (sea eggs), oysters and pāua are also delicacies. Toheroa was particularly popular in the early 1900s, when it was made into a thick green soup. It is now a protected species.

New flavours

Deep-sea fishing developed in the 1980s, and has become a big industry. Orange roughy and hoki are the main species caught and eaten. Scallops are also widely available. New Zealand aquaculture – farming and harvesting fish and shellfish – is a multi-million-dollar industry which produces salmon, oysters and mussels for local and overseas buyers.

Recent immigrants from Japan, China, Taiwan, Korea and South-East Asia have brought with them a taste for seafood. Even so, most New Zealanders continue to eat only small amounts of fish – usually as part of Friday night’s fish and chips.

How to cite this page:

Maggy Wassilieff, 'Seafood', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/en/seafood (accessed 11 December 2018)

Story by Maggy Wassilieff, published 12 Jun 2006