Every fish on the iconic New Zealand Commercial Fish Species poster, ranked.
There are a few staples of the quintessential fish and chip shop: sticky plastic curtains, soggy paper tickets with a little red number, tin pottles of Wattie’s tomato sauce, even some unlabelled aioli if you’re feeling bougie.
And then there’s the New Zealand Commercial Fish Species poster – the Planet Earth of wall hangings, the working man’s Mona Lisa. You know the one: faded, laminated, populated by family favourites and Lovecraftian deep sea horrors, the poster takes pride of place in any chippery worth its salt (lol). From the cod to the cockle, pāua to pilchard, kingfish to kahawai – they’re all there. But which is the best? Which fish is the most delish?
In my research, I tried to enter into dialogue with Seafood New Zealand. They wanted no part in my endeavour without direct editorial input. They wanted to talk ‘criteria’, ‘subjectivity’, ‘sustainability’ or a lack thereof. Hell no! This is journalism, and I serve only you, the people. I won’t be silenced by the corporate spin of Big Fish.
With that in mind, this is my ranking. There are many like it, but this one is mine. These are the fish of the New Zealand Commercial Fish Species poster, ranked in order of importance. You’re welcome.
Oooooooooo barracouta! A species of ‘snake mackerel’, the barracouta (not barracuda) is fed to crays, infested with parasitic worms, has scary teeth and too many bones. Trash fish.
65) Frost fish
Absolutely disgusting. Ranked worst choice for eating by the Best Fish Guide 2017. I’d say they’re the worst choice for looking at too. No redeeming features whatsoever.
A chubby relative of the barracouta, the gemfish has sharp teeth and a low ability to recover from overfishing. Leave this one alone.
63) Ghost shark
You know I can’t eat your ghost shark!
“A horrible fish. I’ve caught too many of them. Wait that’s a different fish. The rock cod.” – The Spinoff’s Alex Casey.
60) Southern spider crab
There’s nothing good about a spider with a hard shell and the ability to breathe underwater. Absolutely Lovecraftian. Back to the sea!
59) Swimming crab
An improvement to be sure. Give him a tiny hat and speedo for God’s sake.
58) Red pearl fish
57) Southern blue whiting
55) Sea perch
54) Blue cod
A bottom-dweller found only in New Zealand – sound like anyone you know?
53) Sea cucumber
Not a fish, not a vegetable, just a disgrace. “Underrated and under-appreciated,” according to The Spinoff’s Simon Day.
Dangerous and disgusting, but a hearty kia ora to anyone who actually likes “sea eggs”. Pick up the shells though, eh?
51) Red cod
To quote King Gizzard:
“Don’t do it
You ain’t a God
Don’t hunt salmon, carp or cod.”
Not that different from a sardine, really.
49) Cardinal fish
A leading dignitary of the church of… being really ugly! Yuck!
A nightmarish little bastard with a shark head and sharp tail, the grenadier is nevertheless a cheap alternative to the slightly less disgusting hoki or blue grenadier. Looks like it’d crawl up your urethra given half a chance.
Like a grenadier, but cute!
It’s estimated that 192 fur seals and 306 seabirds are caught every year in the hake bottom-trawl fishery. That aside, they do look a bit like trout – yum!
Solidarity with rigs worldwide.
44) Albacore tuna
The chicken of the sea. Great colouring, cool spikes, great taste, eat em raw, cut a steak – a versatile and hardy fish delish. A little bit pedestrian, however.
43) Pacific oyster
Like a Bluff oyster that’s fallen on hard times. Lives in ‘brackish estuaries’. Yuck.
42) Grey mullet
An aspirational haircut, a delicious fish, with good prospects sustainability-wise. Hard to fault.
Can’t we just call them hāpuku?
Somehow not a stingray.
39) Blue mackerel
Also known as the slimy mackerel or spotted chub mackerel (lol), the blue mackerel is worth about $10m in exports and comes wrapped in edible skin. Not bad for a spotted chub.
38) Jack mackerel
Sounds like a Mighty Boosh character but isn’t a Mighty Boosh character – huge points lost.
BONUS: As a treat for actually reading the mid-range fish, here’s a little secret – United Fisheries might not want to talk to me, but they will send you the Good Poster if you pay postage. I will pay $100 to anyone who gets it tattooed on their back.
37) Silver warehou
Like the blue one but in second place.
36) Blue warehou
A mainstay of so-called “fish and chips”, the blue warehou is an everyman’s fish, with a special zest in most recipes. Named Fish of the Month in October 2013, the warehou remains a good and under-appreciated ika to this day. Too bad about the trawling.
35) Blue shark
Always look a bit clueless. Would absolutely breathe through their mouths if they lived on land.
Ah langoustine! How do I love thee? Give me your flesh again. And a crisp bottle of white. Yum! Petition to replace Jacques from Finding Nemo with a scampi in the live-action remake. Bonjour indeed!
33) Rays bream
Looks like a snapper from the shadow realm.
Also known as an antarctic butterfish, the bluenose is a member of the family Medusafish, which is pretty metal, even if the ‘Medusa’ refers to jellyfish and not the beast of yore.
31) Lemon sole
More like brill-iant! I feel a special sense of solidarity with flatfish, and I tautoko their resilience in the face of overwhelming genetic bad luck. Should we all be so strong!
29) Sand flounder
Saw someone stab a spear through their foot trying to nab one of these bad boys on a mudflat in Raglan. Also: see above.
28) Yellowbelly flounder
Actually, maybe it was one of these…
27) New Zealand sole
A local take on an international favourite.
26) Skipjack tuna
The most abundant and conservationally secure of the commercially fished tuna! Less flashy than the albacore, but less guilt-inducing too.
Don’t. talk. to. me. unless. you’ve. got. the. calamari.
Our very own mollusc! Harvested year-round and everywhere, the pipi is a gateway drug to the big boys of the shellfish game.
Pipi for adults, and what a beautiful shell! Jo’s Takeaways in Raglan serves the best deep-fried scallops in the country.
Anime snapper. Luvvit.
20) Greenshell mussels
Not a fish, not a bad bit of gear if you want to get liberal with the garlic and butter. I take mine smoked, ideally from that spot outside Coromandel township.
19) Bluff oyster
Not a fish, certainly not delish, but we get enough angry emails as it is so here’s your precious snot shell at number 19. Just know that everyone sees through your palate-signalling bullshit.
An icon, but points docked for sustainability issues, price and those fucking gross weevil things that eat their tongues and take up residence inside the mouth. Nauseating in the extreme.
Just a lovely-looking fish. How’s that wee little smile! A lot of childhood memories brought up by this one, yes sir.
16) Yellowfin tuna
Look at those fins! Looks like something off of bloody Avatar, innit.
15) Elephant fish
The state of it! Seriously, who is she? Bottom feeders who live on crabs and shellfish, the elephant fish is a favourite of surf-casters and reportedly puts up a strong fight on the rod. It’s spineless, ugly and delicious. You love to see it.
There are three species of eel in New Zealand, including two natives, and they all have an ‘anal fin’ (lmao). That being said, don’t eat the longfins and do read Charlie Mitchell’s feature on why not.
Voted most likely to have their name absolutely fucking butchered daily. Repeat after me: ta-ra-ki-hi. There are no tricks in te reo.
12) Quinnat salmon
The king of salmon! Delicious, rich, and creamy. Put em on bagels or a bit of toast. The only way to redeem capers. Keep away from bears!!!
11) Orange roughy
Named after the popular strain of marijuana, the orange roughy is both a) very cute and b) very vulnerable. Leave it alone.
You wouldn’t eat a Kiwi, so put down the fritter IMO.
9) Spiny rock lobster
If the rover on Mars sent back pictures of anything resembling a crayfish we’d call off the colonisation – they just look too much like facehuggers. They’re delicious though, and a legitimate currency in many communities around New Zealand. Great song, too.
8) Spiny dogfish
Sounds like an Australian insult, very crack-up name, tangentially related to dogs and in pretty good shape sustainability-wise. Ooo ya spiny dogfish!
7) John dory
With a radical mohawk, two cool spots and the scientific name zeus faber – a portmanteau of the Greek god of lightning and the pioneering cage fighter Urijah Faber – this is a very, very good fish.
6) Black oreo dory
Not actually a dory, but nevertheless an endearingly ugly fish. These little tackers can live for over 100 years! The spiteful grandparents of the ocean.
5) Red gurnard
Also known as the scorpionfish (!!!), their name comes from the old French word ‘gornard’ meaning ‘grunter’ or to ‘grunt’, and we all know anyone with the nickname grunter is a certified Good Cunt. They make funny sounds, they’ve got scary spikes, they somehow look a bit like a cat, and they taste bloody good. Take a bow, gurnard.
The most princely of fish, the name itself means brave and strong. They fight like hell, they taste great, they’re iconic, and you can’t spell kahawai without ‘aha’ in it. As in, ‘aha, he’s right about number one!’
It’s in the name, duh. Take a quick pic for Tinder (ladies love it!) then skin them with the Gizzy Method and eat raw.
Delicious, creamy and good for collecting the ash of your after-dinner dart, the pāua is, in many ways, the kiwi of the sea.
Not a fish, not a mollusc, probably not of this earth, but easily at the top of this list. Judged by the most important criteria (eg: how much content an animal can generate?), the octopus stands alone. Remember when that kayaker put himself in the way of an octopus travelling at high speed, driving Hayden Donnell insane? Remember when Inky noped it out of the National Aquarium to go find a girlfriend in the Pacific Ocean? Remember when Paul correctly predicted all eight of Germany’s 2010 Football World Cup games? We live, laugh and love the good ‘pus, and we THOROUGHLY CONDEMN any and all efforts to farm our friends.
The Spinoff’s food content is brought to you by Freedom Farms. They believe talking about food is nearly as much fun as eating it, and they’re excited to facilitate some good conversations around food provenance in Aotearoa New Zealand.