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Tora catches another big seafood title

Wairarapa-based fisheries company Tora Collective has taken out the Seafood New Zealand Champion title at the Outstanding NZ Food Producer Awards for its crayfish.

The award is another notch in the belt of the collective, which took home the same award in 2021 for their paua.

At the tasting assessment, the judges noted the appearance of Tora Collective’s wild-caught crayfish is as good as its flavour and described the crayfish as having beautifully sweet flesh.

“It was wonderful to see antennae and legs with nothing broken.”

Co-owner Troy Bramley said the company was thrilled about the win.

“We’ve really pushing to have better quality fish in this country, so we’re stoked that the judges have seen that.”

Co-owner Claire Edwards said the award gave them an opportunity to advocate for what they believed in.

She said because they were selling their own catch of crayfish, kina, and paua, they had the ability to make sustainable decisions.

She said the majority of Aotearoa crayfishers fish for export companies.

“They catch [crayfish], and then it goes to the export company. It then gets graded, and they decide if it’s a reject fish because it’s weak, dying, or has lost legs or antenna.”

Edwards said the good fish were exported, while the “reject fish” were sold to consumers in New Zealand at similar prices to the premium export-quality crayfish – although fishermen were only paid about a quarter of the export price for what’s sold domestically.

Edwards and Bramley began Tora Collective in 2019 in response to this market dynamic and due to their desire to provide New Zealanders with high-quality, sustainably caught kaimoana [seafood].

The collective only fish seasonally [over two periods for crayfish], and they return all the females caught back into the ocean.

“Female crayfish produce up to 500,000 eggs each year, which is why we put them all back in the ocean to help our stocks replenish,” the duo said.

Edwards said they catch to order, which meant less risk of kaimona dying in holding tanks, reducing waste.

Bramley said the moana [ocean] allowed them to take fish when they can: “The ocean doesn’t always let us get in, and that’s working with the environment.”

He said current standard fisheries systems were unsustainable in the long term.

Bramley said that in the current system, there wasn’t a reliable way to prove that the wet fish was actually line caught – and there wasn’t a system for tracing where crayfish and paua come from either.

Edwards added that aside from their company, there weren’t many sea-to-plate businesses.

She said the collective had a few ideas on the go to diversify the business into tourism and wet fish supplied locally to Wairarapa.

“We want to give access to [other fish], which we see as a big issue in Wairarapa – some of the fish you would be buying would be a couple of weeks old,” Bramley said.

Tora Collective supplies to award-winning restaurants, including Aro Valley’s Rita, South Wairarapa’s Colombo Estate and Wharekauhau, Craggy Range Winery in Havelock North, andSPQR in Auckland – to name a few.

Grace Prior
Grace Prior
Grace Prior is a senior reporter at the Wairarapa Times-Age with a keen interest in environmental issues. Grace is the paper’s health reporter and regularly covers the rural sector, weather, Greater Wellington Regional Council, and coastal stories.

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