Hoki – Macruronus novaezelandiae – A Deep Water Species Rarely Caught by Anglers

A brace of good size hoki caught deep sea fishing by Daniel Coleclough off Taiaroa Head, Otago Peninsula. Photo courtesy of Daniel Coleclough.
A brace of good size hoki caught deep sea fishing by Daniel Coleclough off Taiaroa Head, Otago Peninsula. Photo courtesy of Daniel Coleclough.

Hoki are an important New Zealand commercial species

Other Names For Hoki:

Blue grenadier, blue hake, New Zealand whiptail, whiptail or whiptail hake 

Description 

Hoki has a long tapering body and tail. They have a short spiked first dorsal fin. The second dorsal and anal fin run to the pointed tip of the tail and are joined to the caudal fin.  

When first caught hoki are iridescent blue-green to purple from above and bright silver on the sides and belly. The skin is smooth and shiny with tiny scales. Their bright silver colouration soon fades and becomes dull after capture. The fins are darker in colour.  

Hoki range in length between 60 and 100 centimetres, but can reach 130 centimetres. The average weight for a full-size adult fish measuring 120 centimetres would be about 3 to 3.5kg at the most.

The snout is pointed, their eyes are large, and they have a cavernous underslung mouth that is fully armoured. They have two series of teeth in the upper jaw and a single series on the lower jaw. They also have small teeth on the roof of the mouth. 

Where To Find Hoki 

Though hoki can be found all around New Zealand, they are more common off the coast of the South Island particularly in Cook Strait, off the West Coast, the Chatham Rise and the Campbell Plateau. Hoki is a deep-water migratory species.  

Hoki, according to Larry Paul in New Zealand Fishes – Identification, Natural History and Fisheries, generally occur beyond the continental shelf and are most abundant in 300 to 600 meters but have a very wide depth range. Fully grown adult fish have been found in shallow coastal bays and out to sea in depths up to 900 meters. It is not unusual for adult hoki to be washed ashore around Cook Strait. 

Juveniles, like the one pictured below caught in Wellington Harbour, are found in inshore nursery grounds from a few meters deep out to about 200 meters. As juvenile hoki mature, they gradually move further out into deeper water. 

Spawning takes place during winter. There is a major known spawning ground off the West Coast of the South Island at a depth of 400 to 600 meters. The larvae and juveniles are transported by the prevailing currents passing eastward through Cook and Foveaux Straits to populate the broad continental slopes to the east and south of the South Island. 

Their growth rate is quite rapid. They reach 25 centimetres in length by the end of their first year at which time they start to move from inshore waters to the edge of the shelf. Hoki becomes sexually mature at three years by which time they are about 60 centimetres in length. When fully mature and measuring over a meter in length, they’re mostly found in depths between 450 and 650 meters. These larger individuals are between 12 and 15 years old according to Tony Ayling in the Collins Guide to the Sea Fishes of New Zealand.  

Although hoki are sometimes caught around the North Island they do not appear to be common in northern waters. 

What Do Hoki Eat? 

Hoki is mostly a bottom-living species. They live in the inky darkness of deep-water mostly between 200 and 600 meters.   

David H. Graham reports that before 1933, this fish was known to him only from the stomachs of grouper and bass.  

A 50-inch (127 cm) hoki caught trawling in 20 fathoms off the Otago heads weighed 8 pounds (3.6kg) once cleaned. When examined by Graham its stomach was found to contain 25 octopus’ beaks and seven sprats. Hoki was also found to have been feeding on pilchards, sprats, whale feed and octopuses. 

Hoki trawled from deep water have been found to feed heavily on lanternfishes

Tackle For Hoki 

I don’t think hoki are targeted at all by recreational anglers. Those that are caught, like the two pictured above taken by Daniel Coleclough off Taiaroa Head near Dunedin, are caught on tackle intended for more desirable deepwater species like blue cod, groper, bass and bluenose usually taken on barracouta baits.

Only occasionally would recreational boat anglers have the inclination to use large capacity reels in an attempt to fish the bottom in 400 – 500m. It is going to take a long time to wind your line back onto your reel at those depths. An electric reel would be better suited to the task. I would be very interested to hear of the experiences of anglers who have tried to fish the bottom in very deep water. 

Commercial Fishing 

Hoki is a major commercial target species in New Zealand. Before the 1970s whiptails, as hoki was mostly called back then, were regarded as worthless and discarded. Nowadays some 150,000 tons are landed each year. Although they are caught all year the main hoki season is from May to August.

Much of the catch is formed into fish-block and frozen for reprocessing. Hoki is one of the least expensive good quality fish available to New Zealand consumers.  

Hoki is one of our most important fish. It is the main species used for value-added products like fish fingers, boil-in-bag, and coated fillets sold in New Zealand supermarkets. Crumbed Hoki with a Lemon and Herb Risotto.

Are Hoki Good to Eat? 

Hoki has moist white flesh suitable for most cooking methods including being baked, grilled, sauteed or steamed. The scales are very small and the skin soft so hoki can be cooked and eaten with the skin on or off. The fillets have no pin-bones and flakes easily when cooked.

Hoki, Macruronus novaezelandiae (Hector, 1871), collected 1869, Off Ward Island, Wellington Harbour, New Zealand. CC BY 4.0. Te Papa (P.000243)
Hoki, Macruronus novaezelandiae (Hector, 1871), collected 1869, Off Ward Island, Wellington Harbour, New Zealand. CC BY 4.0. Te Papa (P.000243)
 

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