Thursday, September 10, 2009

What Is All This Hoki Stuff?

One of the most popular fish on the market today is the hoki, or whiptail, a bug-eyed specimen found far down in the waters around New Zealand This fish has transformed into a major export. McDonald’s alone at one time used roughly 15 million pounds of it each year. 

I guess this answers the eternal mystery of what makes up a Filet-O-Fish sandwich. This well known sandwich turns out to involve an ugly creature from the sunless depths of the Pacific, whose bounty, it seems, is not limitless.

The hoki may be extremely unattractive, but when it reaches the consumer it’s just fish cut into filets and sticks or rolled into sushi. It's moist, slightly sweet and very tasty and the hoki fishery was thought to be sustainable, providing New Zealand with a reliable major export for years to come.

But the arguments over managing this resource are flaring not only between commercial interests and conservationists, but also among the environmental agencies most directly involved in monitoring and regulating the catch. 

And without formally acknowledging that hoki are being overfished, New Zealand has slashed the allowable catch in steps, from about 275,000 tons in 2000 and 2001 to about 100,000 tons in 2007 and 2008 — a decline of nearly two-thirds, according to the World Wildlife Fund. The scientific jury is still out, but critics warn that the hoki fishery is losing its image as a showpiece of oceanic sustainability.

Hoki rose commercially as orange roughy fell over the recent years. Its shorter life span (up to 25 years) and quicker pace of reproduction seemed to promise sustainable harvests. And its dense spawning aggregations, from June to September, made colossal hauls relatively easy despite the decline in the fish' population. But what bothers me the most is that most Americans have no clue that hoki is often what they’re eating in fried-fish sandwiches despite chain restaurants using hoki included McDonald’s, Denny’s and Long John Silver’s.

And even though most American restaurants have lowered their fishing of this particular species of fish, ominous signs of overfishing, mainly drops in hoki spawns, still occur. All I ask is for the government to regulate this shady type of industry better.

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