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Ocean to plate in 36 hours: the Lee Fish Story

Care for Open Spaces 

The New Zealand culture of kaitiaki – guardianship – is the philosophy behind how one fishing company, Leigh Fisheries New Zealand*, manages its operations. 

The company is based in Leigh, Cape Rodney, in the North Island, and supplies premium quality seafood to a local and export market. It is the heart of the company’s global operations, working alongside sister operations in Asia, Europe, and the United States. Forty independent boats fish for the company from ports in the North Island, with around 30 staff working at the base filleting, sorting, and packing the fish. 

It is the care taken by the people working for Leigh Fisheries that results in its products being recognised internationally as some of the best seafood in the world. Greg Bishop, CEO, says that the company is founded on the knowledge and experience of its workers, some of whom are fourth generation fishers. 

“The fishers are more like hunters,” Bishop says. “They know where the big and small fish are and where the different types of fish are found. We’ve turned fishing into an art. We can guarantee the chefs will have a product supplied before it’s even caught.” 

Kaitiaki and Kai Moana – Caring for the sea 

Working with New Zealand’s strict quota management system in order to prevent over-fishing, the fish are caught in a way that waste is prevented, and juvenile and older fish are left untouched. 

“The fishers must respect where they fish, and what they are doing,” explains Bishop. “It is very important that we have a good reputation in all the ports that we use.” 

Boats use the longline fishing method, where a single line with baited hooks is used to selectively pick the fish, an alternative to putting out a net or a trawl. The fish are killed using the Japanese iki-jime method, which kills the fish instantly preserving the freshness and taste. 

“The catch is handled with care on the boats, then it comes into the factory from the various ports and is unloaded. We take the fish out of the bins that the fishers have placed them in, so there is no extra handling of the fish. The fish are graded as we pack it for export.” 

Catch to plate in 36 hours : End to end traceability 

Key to the Leigh Fisheries story is the ability to trace fish back to its origin, with each box carrying the fishers name and boat name on it. This is important to show the journey the catch takes. 

“When packing the fish, the staff are not thinking about what the fish looks like today,” explains Bishop. “They have it in their mind that someone is going to eat it in a few days, so they are very quality conscious. If it’s not good enough, it doesn’t go in the box.” 

Following the packing of the fish, the catch travels to Auckland to a state-of-the-art cargo facility at Auckland International Airport. The fish can be in the kitchen of a chef in Europe or the United States within 24-36 hours. The value of guardianship and understanding is woven throughout the Leigh Fisheries culture. 

“It’s about people and it’s about relationships,” says Bishop. “We treat the business like a family. “The staff understand the fish, and they also understand the client and the customer. We have a network of markets, and we are true and honest to those markets.” 

Leigh Fisheries value the importance of kaitiaki, and this is shown in their fishing practices and the care that they take, from the way they source the fish, right through to the diner’s plate.  

* Lee Fish is the consumer brand of Leigh Fisheries, a New Zealand company selling premium seafood internationally.

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