It would be remiss of us to do a ‘best of New Zealand seafood’ issue without a nod to our favourite fish and chip shops, right? Despite the millions of dollars poured into marketing and advertising by giant fast-food chains, fish ‘n’ chips continue to be the nation’s favourite takeaway. According to Nielsen, in just one month more than 1.7 million Kiwis enjoyed fish and chips of some sort.

I am just as fond of a crunchy fillet and a scoop of chips as the rest of this glorious country, but the announcement in January by the New Zealand Herald of the best fish and chip shops in Aotearoa left me with a few crispy questions. They had us licking our lips at all kinds of battered and flaky golden deliciousness with tales of 100 grammes of fish or more in every fillet, generous servings, gluten-intolerant options, all extremely fresh, thick, light and OMG yum, and we were celebrating them all for having the freshest fish in town. But not once did this article mention anything about where these establishments purchased their fish.

Oh wait. One did say at the fish market.

What fish market? Where was it caught? How was it caught? Who caught it? Do they know? Do we care?

Possibly not.

I’m not saying that the businesses in that article were not buying from a sustainable source, but I am wondering why the questions are not being asked. If we are going to have a serious conversation about New Zealand seafood and ensuring sustainable livelihoods for those in the seafood industry, access to sustainable fresh fish for all New Zealanders and continued development for the positive future of New Zealand seafood, is it OK for our fish and chip shops to get a free pass?

Do we only need to ask these questions when we are sitting in a high-end restaurant and paying $35 or more for a piece of line-caught or speared fish? If we ask that question at a local spot where we can get two golden, crunchy fillets of fish plus chips for as little as $9 what will their answer be? How does $4.50 per fillet work? A quick Google of a couple of fish and chip shops around my region and the only fish source information is ‘Kiwi As’ and ‘Fished from the pristine waters of New Zealand’. We assume we are eating New Zealand fish and maybe we are. But what if it’s basa or tilapia? If the fillet is long and grey, it probably is. Do we care?

Price point raises another set of challenges for the takeaway fish and chippy. Line-caught fish are more expensive, often sold whole, filleting is time-consuming, skilled knife hands are expensive and hard to get. Will we pay more for sustainably sourced fish?

There has been a wave of new fish and chip shops that offer a variety of fish species cooked to order and yet their websites or social pages rarely state where their fish comes from or how it was caught. I’m betting many of them are supplied by a reputable and sustainable source but consumers are left in the dark. Why not make stating the source as normal as the fact that it is the freshest in town? Tom Searle of Lee Fish states that good news in the fishing industry doesn’t sell, so let’s start a good news story right here and next time you buy, ask the question, “What’s the fish tonight, where did it come from and how was it caught?”

We’re starting a list of places that serve up sustainable as well as delicious fish and chips. As you can see we are starting small but with your help, it will grow. For now, we give you our Top 10 (well, actually it’s our only 10…)

Batter and Salt 989 Matakana Road, Matakana, supplied by Lee Fish

Best Café 30 Stuart Street, Dunedin, supplied by Gravity Fishing & Harbour Fish

Fush 104 The Runway, Wigram Skies, Christchurch, supplied by Chatham Island Food Co & West Fleet

Leigh Eats 18 Cumberland Street, Leigh, supplied by Lee Fish

Mangonui Fish Shop 137 Waterfront Road, Mangonui, supplied by local fishing boats

Point Wells Store 14 Point Wells Road, Point Wells, supplied by Lee Fish

Port Albert General Store Port Albert Road, Wellsford, supplied by Yellow Brick Road

The Fishwife 145 Haven Street, Moeraki, supplied by their own fishing boat

The Chippery 5 Majoribanks Mt Victoria & 10 Murphy Street, Thorndon Wellington, supplied by their own boat and Fish Factory Wellington

Waikane Crab 6 Manchester Street, Paraparaumu, supplied by their own boat

If you own and operate a fish and chip shop and can tell us where you purchase your sustainable fish we’d be happy to add you to this list at cuisine.co.nz. We hope that it will keep evolving. Contact editorial@cuisine.co.nz