Raglan Fish is great news for local fans of seafood. And you don’t even have to drive to Raglan. We can find Raglan Fish in three places: at Raglan Wharf, and at Cambridge and Hamilton Farmers’ Markets.
In my household we’re very fond of their excellent smoked fish and their beautifully fresh squid, just for starters. And it gets even better – most of the fish they sell is caught locally, by three fishing boats based at Raglan Wharf.
When we first came to live in Hamilton, I asked some new acquaintances where to buy fresh fish. They laughed and said, “You go out in your boat and catch it.” I’d probably get this response in most parts of New Zealand. But if you don’t have a keen fisherman or woman in the family, sourcing excellent quality fresh fish can be problematic. Fishing fleets catch vast quantities of fish in our waters, but most of it is exported. Supermarket fish counters are not reliable for quality, and getting to specialist fish retailers is time consuming. (When we lived in Auckland I used to make trips to the Viaduct Basin fish markets, but the traffic was a pain.)
Raglan Fish is an interesting model of a local business, with a commitment to great quality fish. Trevally photo at top of page by Meliors Simms. (NB it's not from Raglan Fish - but they do sell excellent trevally fillets.)
I reckon we’re very lucky to have Raglan Fish. I imagine it might be easy for them to send all the fish straight from Raglan to Auckland. But they're choosing to sell locally.
On a bright and chilly winter afternoon, I drove out to Raglan to find out more about this iconic local business. At the wharfside fish restaurant and shop I met with Lisa Berejoni, the business manager for Raglan Fish, and Stan Grime, who runs the food side of the business.
It’s a gorgeous, sunny spot with great atmosphere, looking out across the harbour. Summer is always busy, but things are usually pretty quiet over winter, Lisa says. However, today was “chaotic” at lunchtime. The hot seafood chowder is going down really well, as well as the crispy-battered fish and chips. Fish is the highlight of the menu (of course). Stan’s passionate about good food. This is where you’ll get just about the freshest fish and chips in the country, usually with lemon wedges and parsley thrown in. Over summer the five deep frying vats are busy, keeping up with demand. The seafood salads are also popular. The occasional customer who doesn’t want fish can have a hot dog.
More than catching fish
After talking with Lisa and Stan, I now know a bit more about New Zealand’s fishing industry than I did. It seems Raglan Fish is pretty unusual in its business model - it's one of just a handful of New Zealand businesses that are involved in catching the fish, buying it, processing it, retailing it - and also cooking it.
When the weather's unfavourable the boats can't go out.
The owners of Raglan Fish, Mark and Sue Mathers, have fish quota leases and they are also licensed fish receivers, which means they can buy the fish off the boats. Some of the fish is sold locally. But much of it is sold via fish markets further afield. The amounts vary considerably, depending on the season and the weather. Lisa says in summer it might be as much as 200 to 300 bins of fish at a time, which is obviously far more than could be sold locally.
All the fish is processed – gutted, filleted and/ or smoked – at Raglan Wharf, Stan says. They hot-smoke fish twice a week, using manuka.
Very few fish shops in the country can boast of having fish caught and sold on the same day, Lisa reckons. But she is careful to point out that this is not always the case. The fish may be up to three days out of the sea, depending on the length of the trip. Even so, that’s still got to be a lot fresher than most other fish retailers.
Three fishing boats are moored at the wharf. Most of the year they go out regularly, but when I visited (midwinter) they hadn’t been out for several weeks because of the weather.
Raglan wharf's resident shag gets an afternoon fish snack.
Depending on the fish and the weather, the boats might go out for the day, or for two or three days at a time. If they’re after hapuka, that means a three-day trip, further up the coast.
Most - but not all – of the fish sold by Raglan Fish is off these boats. Lisa estimates that in summer it would be 80%, and overall, all year round it would be something like 70%. Partly this is because of weather conditions – when the boats can’t go out, Mark buys fish in from the east coast, or other parts of the country.
But they also buy in fish because of consumer demand for particular species of fish, Lisa says. Tarakihi, for example, isn’t caught locally. So it’s bought from other markets.
The main fish species that are caught locally are snapper, gurnard, john dory, lemonfish, kahawai, trevally, and hapuka. The flounder (two kinds – sand flounder and yellow-bellied flounder) comes from two local fishermen in Raglan Harbour. But there are other kinds of fish caught as well, and even squid.
Adding to the vertical integration of the business, Mark has recently put in a citrus orchard to ensure a year-round supply of local lemons for the fish shop. And when I spoke with him a couple of months ago he was talking about sourcing locally grown potatoes, so Raglan Fish could be proudly selling 100% local fish and chips. I’m looking forward to that day!
Raglan Wharf, 92 Wallis St, Raglan
Phone 07 825 7544
Open seven days a week, all year round
Winter: 9am – 7pm
Summer: 8am – 9pm
Also at Cambridge Farmers’ Market on Saturday mornings and Hamilton Farmers’ Market on Sunday mornings.