Snapper, tarakihi and … koi carp? Pest fish for sale alongside NZ favorites

At $6.99 a kilogram, it’s a steal compared to its more desirable sea-sourced cousins.

But the koi carp pictured at Pak’n Save in Hamilton has sparked concerns about what’s going on with sales of the invasive pest for human consumption in Waikato.

Regional councillor Stu Husband is concerned supermarket sales could create incentives to “farm” koi, contributing further to the spread of a species which is blamed for degrading waterways across the region.

Furthermore, former league star Tawera Nikau, now chair of a Tainui marae collective working to eradicate koi, has tikanga-based concerns about sales for human consumption.

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And, after being contacted by Stuff about the Clarence St situation, the Department of Conservation said it was making enquiries.

However, Pak’n Save owner Foodstuffs confirmed it’s been selling koi for years.

Koi, an introduced pest which feeds like a vacuum cleaner, are a widespread problem in Waikato rivers and lakes, contributing significantly to their degradation.

Koi carp caught at the trapping and processing operation at Lake Waikare.
Mark Taylor/Stuff

Koi carp caught at the trapping and processing operation at Lake Waikare.

It’s not illegal to commercially harvest them in a defined zone covering parts of Auckland and Waikato but a license is needed.

The supermarket’s seafood department said it was “rare” to have them on sale, people sometimes placed orders for them and that normally customers of Chinese ethnicity purchased them.

DoC’s compliance team lead Dylan Swain said in a statement that Pak’n Save wasn’t committing an offence by selling dead koi.

But he confirmed its suppliers needed a permit. There were at least six entities permitted to harvest koi across Waikato

“We will be en squiries to ensure the supplying Pak Save is legally permitted,”wain said.

Foodstuffs corporate affairs manager Emma Wooster said in a statement the koi at Clarence St was purchased locally from a licensed supplier.

She said there had been a growing demand for locally-caught koi in some parts of the country and a number of stores had been stocking the species for more than five years.

Wooster said that “while it’s considered a pest in this country, it’s also a great inexpensive source of protein”.

Waikato Regional Councillor Stu Husband is concerned supermarket sales of koi could be an incentive to “farm” them.

Andrea Fox/Stuff

Waikato Regional Councillor Stu Husband is concerned supermarket sales of koi could be an incentive to “farm” them.

Husband, chair of the integrated catchment management committee, said he was alerted to koi on sale at Clarence St by fellow councillor Fred Lichtwark.

“I do have serious concerns about commercialisation of this fish,” said Husband.

Sales of dead fish for human eating could become an incentive for people to “farm” them “and keep stocks up”.

“We all know humans,” said Husband.

Lichtwark, meanwhile, agreed no farming should be allowed but was happy about commercial harvesting of wild koi.

Sales at Clarence St “shows there’s quite a market potentially”, he said.

“It’s a good idea, same as possums, goats – all these things people are using at the moment.”

Turning pests into a resource was better than poisoning water or land to control them.

Tawera Nikau from Te Riu o Waikato, has tikanga-based concerns about selling a pest fish for human consumption for profit.

Kelly Hodel/Stuff

Tawera Nikau from Te Riu o Waikato, has tikanga-based concerns about selling a pest fish for human consumption for profit.

While Tawera Nikau supports commercial koi capture for uses such as burley, bait and fertiliser, he isn’t comfortable with selling them in supermarkets for human consumption.

“That’s not something we would do culturally as mana whenua.

“Harvesting a pest and then selling it for profit for people to eat wouldn’t be our tikanga (custom).”

Nikau’s organisation, Te Riu o Waikato, is working closely with DoC, the regional council and the Waikato River Authority on various ideas for koi control, including the use of long nets. More than $1.3 million in funding and in-kind contributions for a new joint project was announced this month.

The council has also set aside $250,000 this year for reports on options but Husband said much more was needed from central Government to support local initiatives to deal with koi carp.

“It’s going to require millions. It is the biggest pest threat to our waterways, bar none.”

Husband said an earlier council CarpN Neutral project at Lake Waikare involving koi capture and processing for fertiliser had “lost its legs” a bit for now but this system was still able to be used.

He said iwi had plans for capturing koi for cat food but with the aim of eradication rather than an ongoing business.

There were also trials near Whangamarino wetland aimed at building up tuna stocks to eat smaller koi and eggs, Husband said.

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