Hoki Fish : Fearing Fillet-o-Fish Follies


Sure, it's fish, but do you know what kind of fish? Image from Flickr.

Most people have never heard of, much less seen a Hoki fish – at least, not until it’s blended, breaded, and on a bun. However, this ugly little fish has been the center of a very big environmental controversy. Two of sustainability’s biggest players are locked head-to-head, one saying the Hoki fish is environmentalism’s equivalent of low interest loans, easy to get and easy to replace. The other side claims Hoki fish are more like same day payday loans – easy to get, but sometimes very difficult to justify.

Hoki Fish is just part of your fish stick

When you go to your favorite burger joint, you’ll most likely see a fishwich, fillet-o-fish, or fishstick option. While at one point these sticks of fishy flavor were entirely whitefish cod, they rarely are anymore. Cod supplies have been dropping for years – in 2006, scientists actually called for a complete ban. Instead of one fish, fish fillets are usually a blend of Hoki fish, pollock, and other whitefish. Once caught, these fish are sent to factories where they are blended with each other, pressed into shapes, breaded, frozen, and sent off to end up on your plate.

Defining Hoki Fish’s sustainability

The issue with Hoki fish comes when examining questions of sustainability. Two of the world’s largest environmental groups that deal with fish, the World Wildlife Fund and Marine Stewardship Council disagree on the issue of Hoki fish. The World Wildlife Fund has stated that they believe the Moki is being over fished, and asked for the Marine Stewardship Council to remove the “sustainability certification” from Hoki fish. The Stewardship Council, however, certified Hoki fish as “sustainable” for the next five years. The New Zealand government has chosen to remain fairly neutral – they have not officially declared Hoki fish as “over fished” but they did reduce the allowable catch from 275,000 tons to 100,000 tons.

This Hoki fish story has happened before

Though the Hoki fish was originally chosen because it was thought to be sustainable, this story has played out in the past. McDonalds alone uses over 100 million pounds of various white fish each year. Originally, the majority of McDonalds fish sandwiches used Orange Roughy, but when that fish was found to be very slow-growing and long-living, they switched to Hoki fish as a “sustainable” substitute.

Hoki Fish’s future shrouded in darkness

As one of the largest consumers of white fish on the planet, McDonalds has stated sustainably goals that are supposed to take precedence over even cost. The larger issue, however, is how to feed the growing appetite for fishy flavor in our diets while protecting the thousands of species in the oceans. Sustainable fishing practices coupled with fish farms are a good place to start. Until there are worldwide standards for sustainability, however, the Hoki fish’s future will be as dark and murky as its underwater home.

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