Northlanders are getting the opportunity to cook and eat restaurant-quality kingfish as Niwa's aquaculture park at Bream Bay is affected by lockdown.

Niwa researches fish and shellfish at the Ruakākā's Bream Bay Aquaculture Park and over the past year has focussed on the commercial development of kingfish.

As part of developing what is hoped will become a premium product on the international market, about 200-300kg of kingfish has been delivered to "top notch" restaurants and cooked by award-winning chefs in Auckland, Wellington and Queenstown.

Covid-19 has stopped the programme and the centre had to either dump the fish or find a new market.

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The centre's chief scientist for aquaculture and biotechnology Andrew Forsyth said it decided to distribute the kingfish through charities including Life Point Church in One Tree Pt, Encounter Church in Ruakākā, the Presbyterian Church in Waipu, Salvation Army, Food Rescue in Whangārei and the Bream Bay Community Trust.

Forsyth said the deliveries to the various charities were being done under food safety and Covid-19 level 4 alert procedures.


"We had a choice to terminate the programme and dump the fish in a hole or find an alternative outlet. In a crisis where our community is hurting the best thing to do is to distribute it through registered charities."

Last week 400 kingfish were distributed and about 300 will be handed out this week. The supply is likely to last another few weeks.

Forsyth said as they were operating under a fish farming licence they could only give fish as koha to registered charities, not to individuals.

Forsyth said the fish weighed about 3kg and were much smaller that the legal size of 75cm for recreational fishers.

"It's the most popular size in the Japanese market and it's real high end. But if anyone knows their fish, it's people in this country. We are pulling it out of restaurants and giving it to a discerning group of people in Northland.

"It's nice to see the locals sampling a product we hope becomes a commercial success."

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The feedback from those lucky enough to get a fresh kingfish delivery has been one of genuine thanks.

Kelly Wylie, of Bream Bay Community Trust, delivered 47 kingfish yesterday to families in need.

She said those with children home from school appreciated having something extra to feed the family.

"There's a bit of amazement and very genuine appreciation. They are telling us it's pretty tasty too."

Top chef Cameron Knox, from Auckland restaurant Xoong, used the kingfish in a dish "Ruakākā kingfish tartare with smoked pepper mayo and wasabi tobiko", which won the supreme award at The Taste of Auckland in 2018.

Covid19.govt.nz: The Government's official Covid-19 advisory website

The festival is the country's biggest celebration of food and drink. Fourteen top restaurants and more than 60 top chefs and their restaurant teams push out a staggering 40,000 dishes to feed a hungry crowd of more than 20,000 across the four day. Using the Ruakaka kingfish again last year he finished second.