Visit to Ora King Salmon in New Zealand

Euclid Fish Visits New Zealand King Salmon

February 11, 2019

This month, we were fortunate enough to get the full Ora King Salmon experience all the way in New Zealand! New Zealand is one of the most picturesque countries with stunning landscapes, vast mountain ranges and sweeping coastlines, not to mention one amazing sea farm. We are excited to share with you our experience of lifetime.

About Ora King

There are 8 operating sea farms on the South Island of NZ, on the northern Coast Marlborough Sounds region and 3 fresh water hatcheries. Ora King is the highest graded brand of NZ King Salmon, and they only raise King salmon, no Atlantic salmon. Teams of marine veterinarians monitor fish activity daily between the 8 farms. Ora King is one of the only salmon companies to completely raise the salmon from broodstock to egg to smolt and mature fish. The remote environment means that there are no biosecurity threats so no antibiotics or antiparasitics are used. New Zealand is extremely strict on food safety, resulting in brands you can trust.

Ora King is extremely active in the local communities of Nelson and Takaka. We saw this first hand as they donated several hundred pounds of fish to brush fire victims and volunteers while we were there. Ora King employs local Maori native people in operations.

Tour of the Takaka Hatchery

Te Waikoropupu Spring in New ZealandTakaka is a small town in the North of New Zealand's south Island at the mouth of the Takaka river. Ora King's Takaka hatchery has  a 6 million egg capacity and 150 broodstock families that their biologists match for superior salmon families. The salmon raised on site are for broodstock purposes only.

Matching families is done yearly to stagger growth for yearly salmon supplies at sea. Breeding stock is barcode tagged and accessed for weight and temperature tolerance for summer heat and winter cold. DNA samples are measured to determine growth rates, fat content and color matching the best families. Once males and females are matched, eggs and milt are extracted and can be held dormant for 3 months once fertilized.

Females eggs are hand-harvested with an average of 7,000 eggs each! The eggs are tracked and matched to the male milt. 85-90% of the eggs survive.

Holding trays for the fertilized eggs are given a constant supply of fresh water. After 1-3 months of incubation a yolk sac appears and the eggs are transferred to another site where they grow from small fry to smolt. The smolt are then transferred to the Marlborough Sounds.

Te Waikoropupu Spring feeds the water at the Takaka Hatchery. Water from the earth takes 10 years to filter up through the earth and into the spring. The water flows irrigation-style through the hatchery with other native species, and is then filtered back out into the spring.

Fishing nets and tents spread over Takaka Hatchery in New ZealandTe Waikoropupu Spring is a spiritually sacred body of water to the Maori people. While we were on the Outlook enjoy the view a Maori family were touching the water and drinking from it, it was special to briefly hear the parents explain the significance of the spring to their children. Only a certain amount of water can be directed into the hatchery from the spring each year, New Zealand King Salmon is monitored by the New Zealand governments as well as Maori representatives.

Farmers spend 7 days on the farm at a time. The Sea Pens on the farm are 30x40 meters and 15 meters deep. The Sea Pens hold about 30,000 fish each with a ratio of 98% water and 2% fish. These fish are not exposed to sea lice so there is no need for water treatment, antibiotics, or hormones.

At the time of our visit New Zealand was in the fourth month of a drought. Nets and shade were set up over the fish sine the heat was so high at this time of year. These protect the fish from getting sunburned and from birds. The nets are cleaned weekly. Black tents are used to simulated day and night patterns with different timing for each pen to stagger the growth rate. The tents are fan cooled as needed.

Smolt are on a twice a day feeding schedule and the farm uses 18 tons of food per day! The feed and feeding habits are monitored via underwater cameras so that the operators know when to stop the feed. New Zealand King harvests the salmon year round, switching between farms depending on where the largest fish are at the time.

There are market sized fish and smolt and the farms are rotated based on the size of the fish. 10-12,000 can be harvested each day! The fish we saw will be ready for harvesting in the summer of 2020.

Tour of the Processing Plant

Workers working in New Zealand King Salmon processing plant in Nelson, New Zealand

The New Zealand King Salmon processing plant is located about 64 miles away from the Takaka Hatchery in Nelson, New Zealand. Salmon harvested at the farm by boat are bled on the boat and then packed in ice slurry in a tanker for the truck journey to Nelson where they will be graded, processed, and packaged.

After arriving in Nelson the salmon are graded. The grading is done by one person. Each fish is graded based on their scales, fin structure, muscle composition, eyes, and spine. Salmon who make the secondary grade are sent to other markets, but they're still really nice fish!

Each person on the processing line has one job in the cleaning process - and they are very skilled! 3 Ora King salmon are put into each box and are sent down the line for ice, boxing, and labeling. We saw some gorgeous cuts of salmon being portioned for their frozen line. The boxes we saw being packaged arrived at Euclid Fish two days later! 

Ora King Tyee


John Young and Charles Young outside of Ora King Tyee in New Zealand.

During our visit we got to witness the stunning and rare Ora King Tyee! These 30lb.+ King Salmon are a natural phenomenon that occur in the wild, but they make up less than 1% of the global salmon population. They are salmon that have not matured in the usual 2 year time frame. Instead, they continue to grow to 4 years of age while maintaining premium condition. New Zealand King Salmon was the first company in the world to grow King Salmon to this size. A maximum of 40 Ora King Tyee salmon are available each month and North America is limited to 10 of them per month. Euclid Fish has committed to 1 Ora King Tyee per month starting this April and we are thrilled!

The good people of New Zealand have tremendous pride in their work. Their care and attention is evident in the fish. Just like our local farmers, the Kiwis have absolute respect for the animal and for sustainability. We thoroughly enjoyed our visit and look forward to returning in 2020!