New Zealand Coastal Seafoods are a marine biotech company built on the ‘tail to tip’ ethos. Recently they have begun to expand their suite of fisheries by-products to include nutraceuticals made from mussel powder, seaweed extracts and more. That expansion is the silver lining of a trade issue that has limited their sale of their original product, ling maw.

Ling maw is the swim bladder of the fish, which is considered by some Chinese people to be one of the four traditional delicacies of the sea due to its high nutritional content. Over the years, New Zealand Coastal Seafoods has developed a unique production process that involves cold-curing the product rather than heating it. Freezing the ling at sea within six hours of being caught contributes to its desired properties including low water content, longer lifetime, maintained flavour and integrity in its structure when cooked.

Maw is in high demand, which draws a high value for the product. That high value has driven unsustainable fishing internationally and currently all fish maw is blacklisted for export into China because of sustainability concerns. Ironically, export of whole ling into China is allowed from Aotearoa New Zealand as ling are considered to be sustainably fished here.

New Zealand Coastal Seafoods has invested in food processing technology and there is demand for their product in China, but trade limitations are disrupting the $100-120 million industry. Their experience demonstrates the importance of market access for our commercial fishing industry. Overseas market access requirements, including standards, assurances and traceability, are surmountable hurdles, but where trade limitations come in the government is required to step in.

Right: Ling caught off the Northland coast. Image credit: Norman Holtzhausen/Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 3.0).

A fisher just out of shot holds up a long pink fish with a wrinkly forehead