From the deck to dinner

Auckland market photo Sanford
In coming of age, our commercial fishing industry retains some good ol’ fashion down to earth local flavour. Daryl Sykes explains the options available to seafood consumers that enable fresh seafood to be purchased at the wharf or online, direct from working commercial fishermen. This growing trend literally takes the fish…

Fishing media rarely mentions the seafood lovers who cannot go fishing and social media often features the laments of seafood lovers who pine for the days when fresh fish and lobsters were purchased straight off commercial vessels at the wharf. There is genuine confusion as to whether that is still allowed. The answer is a definite—‘yes’. In some ports there are a few small seafood markets run off the decks of fishing boats but, perhaps less obvious to many people, individual commercial fishermen can randomly provide freshly caught and seafood as requested—it’s what is referred to as ‘wharf sales’.

Wharf sales add local colour

In the South Island, and slowly emerging in some North Island ports, there are also several online opportunities for consumers to have fresh seafood delivered directly to their door.

Reasons for wharf sales are many and varied— people convince themselves that fresh is best and that it does not get much fresher than off the deck of the boat. True, but all the fish in retail and supermarket premises has come off a boat too, albeit some of it may have stopped off at a processor to be skinned and filleted before being presented for sale. Buyers may want the raw material—the whole fish or the whole live lobster, which they can take away and process to their own preference and serve in their own unique style. Some don’t live close to a retail outlet but can get down to a wharf or a landing site— access to wharf sales is very convenient to them. Many people believe it important to support their local fishing industry and prefer to buy direct from the boat for that reason alone.

A crowd lines up on the Wellington wharf photo S Pascual

What is ‘fresh’ when it comes to seafood? Anything that is still alive tops the quality list: live lobsters, crabs and shellfish (paua and kina). And finfish direct from a vessel at the end of a trip will be fresher than the same fish presented on a supermarket tray, but only marginally. Independent consumer magazines say the standard rule of thumb is that fish caught 10 days ago is fresh, so long as it has been carefully handled, including promptly iced down when hauled aboard and has been kept in a cold chain since.

The devil is in the detail

So staying with the preference for ‘freshest’ (straight off the boat) rather than just fresh, in the context of the QMS a Wharf Sale means a sale or other disposition of fish by a commercial fisher to which section 191(2) of the Act applies

No commercial fisher may sell or otherwise dispose of fish, aquatic life, or seaweed, taken by the commercial fisher in that capacity, except to a licensed fish receiver or as provided in subsection (2). And sub-section 2 goes on to record that 

(2) Any commercial fisher may sell or otherwise dispose of, in any one transaction, not more than—

(a) 10 kilograms of finfish; or

(b) 6 kilograms of shellfish (other than Foveaux Strait dredge oysters or shellfish of class Crustacea); or (b(a)) 60 Foveaux Strait dredge oysters; or

(c) 3 kilograms of shellfish of class Crustacea; or

(d) any combination of such finfish or shellfish within those limits.

Every commercial fisher who sells or otherwise disposes of any finfish or shellfish under subsection (2) shall, at the time of the transaction, make such records of the transaction as the commercial fisher is required to make under regulations made under this Act.

Multiple copies of a mandatory reporting record must include the following information: 

• The date on which the fish were supplied to the person; 

• The landing point or point of supply of the fish; 

• The vessel (if any) from which the fish were taken; 

• The client number of the commercial fisherman; 

• The species and landed state of the fish; 

• The greenweight in kilograms and the unit price (if any) of the fish.

All that palaver might help explain why the lobster or setnet fisherman pulling his boat ashore might politely decline to sell any of his catch directly to you, but he or she can do so if they wish to.

Boat to plate sales aid sustainability

For many fishermen caught up in the Covid shutdowns and market disruptions through 2020, wharf sales became an important source of income despite the administrative compliance associated with each transaction. Others saw a useful and ongoing business opportunity in dealing direct to the customer.

Fish Local has been created by eCatch New Zealand Ltd, a small South Island based company that focuses on recording commercial fishing effort and connecting local fishers with customers. ( Their philosophy is to encourage increasingly sustainable fishing practices in New Zealand.

One way to do that is by enabling sales direct from local fishers to local customers. Same day ‘boat to plate’ sales enhance both the fisher’s ability to fish profitably and more sustainably as well as provide the freshest fish possible to local consumers.

Generally, the Fish Local fishers process their catch on the boat and sell directly to consumers rather than through a third party. This means more of the customer dollar is going to the boat, so buyers are helping to keep a small, local business going.

Based on the south Wairarapa coast, the Tora Collective has progressively built a reputation in some of the finest New Zealand seafood restaurants as well as with many home consumers with their attractively presented supplies of sustainably harvested seafood. ( Their sales pitch is strong on their care for the environment, quality, and absolute freshness.

Spoilt for fresh choice

But seafood lovers in the main centres are killed for choice when it comes to the availability of fresh seafood. If your inclination is to support your local fleet then wharf sales enable that. But if the traditional sources of seafood are more convenient you can be assured that fish processors, dealers in fish and retailers must, by law, abide by strict food safety protocols. A live lobster from the tanks of your local fishing company is going to be every bit as good as anything that came straight off the boat as a wharf sale. And the kilo of fresh fillets from your local fishmonger is no fuss, no waste and ready to cook. The seafood retail sector knows that fresh is best when you want to serve fish for a compliment.

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