Growing demand from families in need sees orders increase for fish scraps

Laura James
Source: 1News

An Auckland marae that repurposes fish scraps to feed families in need, has tripled its pre-Covid output to meet growing demand.

The Kai Ika project, run by Mangere East’s Papatūānuku Kōkiri Marae and fishing advocacy group LegaSea, utilises the 67 per cent of a fish that’s left after it’s filleted.

Consisting of the fish heads, frames and offal, it typically goes to waste.

The team told 1 NEWS it had big concerns as lockdown hit, with demand for food exploding, but the project’s supply of fish scraps from leisure fishermen disappearing.

“Thankfully this didn't last long. The community rallied, Moana New Zealand and, more recently, Sanford has donated large quantities of fish,” said LegaSea’s Sam Woolford.

It meant the team could keep up with demand, distributing seven tonnes of fish heads and frames in just four weeks.

And post lockdown, much of that demand’s been sustained.

In a modified shipping container donated by Royal Wolf, Kai Ika now processes up to 1500kgs of fish off cuts a week.

That’s up from around 500kgs a week pre-Covid.

“We’re now working with five other marae around Tāmaki Makaurau and we want to expand that further to seven," Mr Woolford said.

“We know we can’t go backwards, we’ve seen the appetite from the community and we want to share this kaimoana.”

Papatūānuku Kokiri marae’s Lionel Hotene said, “we have many, many families, many people from the community coming in”.

Agnes Vaomotou picks up fish for her and her eight children, every week.

Her husband was a fisherman but passed away two years ago and she said, “since he passed away it was a struggle”.

“[Kai Ika] is so helpful, it means a lot to me”, she said.

Mr Hotene says, “there's massive opportunities for us to feed our people. Full puku/full stomach means people are more content”.

“We're in South Auckland, we get stigmased as a place where there's a lot of violence and crime and we're hoping to address a lot of those social issues through food.”

There are plans to include other centres and expand the project’s reach in Auckland.

“We're working on a big infrastructure build at the top end of the marae that will have proper processing facilities," said Mr Woolford.

“The sky's the limit," Mr Hotene said.

“Changing the perception of what waste looks like is one of the most satisfying parts.”

On average, only 33 per cent of a fish is consumed, with many people filleting the fish and throwing the rest away.

But Kai Ika aims for total utilisation.

Any remaining parts of the fish they don’t eat, like the guts, are used as fertiliser for the marae’s garden.

In te reo, the head of the fish is called rangatira kai or ‘chiefly food’ and many Māori families consider it a delicacy.

Since the project began in 2018 it’s saved around 80 tonnes of fish off cuts from going to waste.