New Zealand hoki has become the first whitefish in the world to be granted the “green” logo of The Marine Stewardship Council (MSC). The industry is now hoping that the MSC logo, which guarantees sustainability in production, will boost the reputation and market share of the fish.

Positive marketing through the logo cannot increase hoki sales or exports, for the MSC guarantees a 250,000 tons limit on the amount of fish harvested during 2000-2001 regardless of the consumer demand, but it can mean a more stable price for exporters. This is important because less than 5% of the fish, which also goes by the name blue hake, blue grenadier or whiptail, is consumed in New Zealand.

Ross Tocker is chairman of the Hoki Fishery Management Co, which represents the interests of industry players in New Zealand, he commented: “The prime interest has been in Europe where consumers are attuned to eco-labelling. But we also feel that some of the major companies in the US will quickly see the designation as a desirable attribute.”

Of the NZ$310.9m worth of hoki exported last year, the US and Europe accounted for over half, while Australia and Japan are other important markets.

Currently, 54 companies are able to harvest hoki, as quota is seen as a property right in New Zealand. The largest holders of quota are the Sealord Group, which holds over 30%, Sanford, Amaltal Fishing Co, Independent Fisheries and Vela Fishing. Sealord has spent NZ$90m on technology to improve the texture and quality of the fish when it is caught and applying for the MSC certification was evidence of a further move to increase the value of hoki.

CEO of the group, Phil Lough, commented: “Ten years ago [hoki] was regarded as a low-value fish and brought comparatively poor returns. We set out to improve the returns.”

The industry now believes that the focus must be on catering for the food service sector in the US and across Europe, according to Tocker. By filleting the fish and offering the product in portions, companies can also increase hoki’s attraction in restaurants that struggle with labour shortages.