Discover some of Aotearoa’s favourite ika at EMR’s Fish of the Year competition.
Now in its third year, EMR’s (Experiencing Marine Reserves) annual competition is aimed to raise awareness on some of the issues marine life face and educate Kiwis about the incredible biodiversity in New Zealand’s freshwater and marine environments.
This year, there are 39 species of fish in the running.
“We are two weeks into the competition, with team elasmobranchs absolutely smashing it,” said Wednesday Davis, EMR Auckland programme leader. “But the competition is not yet over. With just over one week left, there is still a chance for a leaderboard shakeup.”
At the end of the second week, oceanic manta ray was at the top with 440 votes, followed by longfin eels with 309 votes, great white shark with 270 votes, big-bellied seashore with 253 votes, and basking shark with 250 votes.
“Fan favourites are definitely our more charismatic megafauna, the big critters of the ocean that have incredible ocean journeys, stories, and lives,” said Davis.
“Oceanic manta rays, great white sharks, and basking sharks are new additions to the competition this year and are making a hit. These animals are protected under the Wildlife Act 1953. It is illegal to hunt, kill, or harm manta rays, marine mammals, and a variety of sharks within New Zealand’s national waters (200 nm limit around New Zealand).”
EMR is also encouraging organisations to back the contestants.
“There is a lot of love for our smaller ocean critters. New Zealand has the most diverse triplefin fauna in the world. Our friends at Young Ocean Explorers are backing the adorable blue-eyed triple fin, a small candy-cane striped fish with gorgeous blue eyes. Revive our Gulf, however, are backing the well-camouflaged mussel-bed dwelling common triplefin.”
Seven freshwater fish are also in the running for this year’s competition, with EMR’s sister organisation Whitebait Connection backing the īnanga, one of the many fishes caught as “whitebait”, said Davis.
“The word whitebait does not refer to a single species. Whitebait are the juveniles of giant kōkopu, banded kōkopu, shortjaw kōkopu, īnanga, and kōaro. Despite many whitebait species being classified as at risk of declining, vulnerable, or at risk of extinction, whitebaiting is still permitted around much of New Zealand. By campaigning for īnanga, Whitebait Connection aims to raise awareness for the plight of our whitebait species and encourage conservation rather than consumption.”
Two-time winner whai repo (eagle rays) – a clear fan favourite – has been removed from the 2023 competition to give other critters a chance to be featured, Davis said.
EMR is a national programme of experiential learning about marine conservation, with a focus on community engagement and marine conservation. The EMR – Te Kura Moana programmes provide schools and communities with hands-on experience in the ocean.
“Since 2001, EMR has taken more than 77,000 people guided in New Zealand’s marine reserves/rahui and more than 150,000 guided experiences through EMR-organised marine conservation events,” said Davis.
To find out more about EMR and to cast your vote, visit emr.org.nz. Voting closes on 31 March 2023. Kiwis can vote for up to three fish and go in the draw to win prizes. The winner will be announced on 1 April.