An initiative between Auckland marae and the region's fishers has seen over 84 tonnes of what would have been scraps transformed into delicious meals for the community.
Demand for the Kai Ika project, run by Papatūānuku Kōkiri Marae and fishing advocacy group LegaSea, has more than tripled this year, largely due to economic impacts from Covid-19.
The collective rescues the two thirds of a fish that's typically left after filleting from recreational and commercial fishers, and distributes them across the city to those in need.
Fish heads and frames are smoked, or turned into soups, chowders and stocks; while the inedible parts - such as the guts - are used to fertilise the vegetable garden at the marae.
This summer they are expanding even further, with a mobile filleting station at Westhaven Marina, funded by a grant of over $30,000 from Auckland Council's Waste Minimisation and Innovation Fund (WMIF), which will make the project self-sustainable.
The idea came about in 2016, after LegaSea's Scott Macindoe read an article in the Herald about the Māngere marae and the 80,000 kumara they'd just planted as part of a bid to reconnect the community with growing kai.
Macindoe had previously been in touch with Ōrākei's Outboard Boating Club, whose 1800 members were concerned about mounting discarded fish parts at their filleting station.
"We know the fish head and frame is the most revered part of the fish in many cultures, including the Pacific and Indonesia, and here are all these Pākehā just throwing them away," says LegaSea's Sam Woolford.
The parts of fish that are often discarded as waste are actually high in vitamin A, omega-3 fatty acids, iron, zinc and calcium.
In te reo Māori, fish head is "rangatira kai", meaning "chief's food", and in many cultures the world over, fish heads are considered a delicacy, with fish head soups and curries staple diets.
"Tāmaki Makaurau is this melting pot of cultures, so we thought we could do something awesome here," Woolford said.
So they teamed up with the marae and OBC, and thus begun Kai Ika.
By the start of this year they'd been processing between 250 to 500kg of fish parts a week, distributed through Papatūānuku Kōkiri Marae and six other urban marae.
But then Covid-19 hit, and as recreational fishing ground to a halt, so did the supply.
Meanwhile, unemployment rose, and demand from those in need.
Fortunately the dearth didn't last long, with commercial operators Moana New Zealand and, more recently, Sanford donating large quantities of fish parts.
Now, Kai Ika is churning through about 1500kg a week in a modified shipping container donated by Royal Wolf, and as the city enters its second lockdown they still cannot keep up with demand.
Papatūānuku Marae's Lionel Hotene said the project aligned perfectly with their ethos, started by matriarch Mere Knight in the 1970s and 1980s, to feed the community and reconnect people with growing and catching their own kai.
"We started as a hub, for Māori disconnected from the whenua and culture in that great urban migration. And we are continuing that tradition Mere started."
As an essential service, Hotene and a team at the marae have continued through the lockdowns, during which they'd seen a "huge" increase in demand.
"It is a bit of a reflection of where we are at. There has always been a bit of strife in the community, but this is a means to support people while also having conversations about kai, and getting people back in the garden."
Through a network of community groups, the kai moana is shared throughout Auckland, where it is needed.
Woolford said the council funding was for a mobile filleting station, where they'd charge fishers to fillet fish and offer a knife sharpening service.
They were aiming to have it running by Labour Weekend at Westhaven Marina.
"Through that we will be able to collect product and set up a revenue stream, making the project self-sustainable."
Ideally, Woolford said their initiative would become redundant as people became more aware of utilising the whole fish, and connecting with the community themselves.
"It's been a wonderful process, connecting with the marae, commercial fishing now too, and all elevating the understanding this food does not need to be wasted. We'd love it to get to a point where people are just sharing over the fence, and we are not needed."
More than 400 projects have been funded by the council's Waste Minimisation and Innovation Fund since 2013, allocating over $4.3 million from the waste levy.
The latest round, running through September, has $600,000 to distribute, with individual grants from $250 to $50,000 for innovative ideas on how to reduce waste.
The fund is part of a drive to slash Auckland landfill waste to net zero by 2040.
So far, the city is making slow but steady progress, with Aucklanders producing about 136kg per person last year, down from 160kg in 2010.
A food scrap collection service being introduced in October next year is estimated to reduce that amount a further 35kg.
Total waste is down from about 1.65 million tonnes in 2016, when the target was set, to 1.5 million tonnes last year.
But that is still enough to cover Eden Park to the height of one and a half Sky Towers.
Around 80 per cent is from commercial sources, particularly construction and demolition, which also holds the greatest potential for diversion.
Chair of the Environment and Climate Change Committee Richard Hills said it also assisted with developing a "circular economy" in the city, one of the goals in Auckland's Climate Plan, Te Tāruke-ā-Tāwhiri.
"Reducing our carbon footprint means we need to try new things and turn great ideas into everyday solutions for zero waste.
"Whether it's a little funding to strengthen an already successful project, or a large boost to take a big idea to the next phase, we are excited to partner with you to reduce waste."
Contact Auckland Council for further information about the WMIF and to apply.
corporates to redirect and repurpose redundant and unwanted items, such as office equipment. In 2019 they received $28,000 from the WMIF to set up commercial waste upcycle/recycle plant to upcycle and repurpose waste and create employment in South Auckland. As of July this year the company had diverted 2200 tonnes from landfill around the country.