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What is a Kahawai?

By Debra Durkee
Updated May 17, 2024
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The kahawai is a saltwater fish native to the waters around Australia and New Zealand. Dwelling in the pelagic zone of the ocean, it is fished commercially throughout its native waters. It is a highly desirable target for fishermen, as it contains high levels of nutrients like omega-3 and presents a challenge in the sport.

Colors vary among green, blue, and purple, although most kahawai have a silvery, pale underbelly that camouflages it to fish that swim beneath. The back and sides may be solid, spotted, or sport dark patches. The majority of the fish weigh between 4.4 pounds (2 kg) and 8.8 pounds (4 kg), although larger individuals are not unheard of. Sizes also vary, and many mature at longer than 12 inches (about 30 cm). Smaller ones are known as kopapa.

While the native waters of the kahawai are the saltwater oceans, the fish do venture into freshwater lakes and rivers that empty into the larger oceans. There, these carnivorous fish hunt prey such as eels and other freshwater fish, although they do not remain in these waters for long. Typically, a kahawai will feed on small saltwater fish, shrimp, and even small squid. The most common places to find large schools are in the estuaries and bays where freshwater and saltwater meet. Schools typically remain fairly close to the surface of the water, making the fish easy to see from above.

The kahawai is a popular target among fly fishermen, and is a challenge to land as it will fight from the moment it is hooked. In addition to being a desirable fish in itself, the kahawai is usually found in large schools closer to the surface than other types of fish. As a predator, it will often travel in schools that follow other groups of fish that it might prey upon; this often serves as a marker for fly fishermen looking for a spot with a variety of fish available. The kahawai is also a favorite food of kingfishers, and flocks of these colorful seabirds can often point the way toward schools of fish.

Also known as the Australian salmon even though it is not a member of the salmon family, the fish travel in schools usually made up of individuals in the same size range. Fishermen have found schools that remain in the same place for weeks at a time, although with frequent fishing, instances of these stationary schools are dwindling. As the kahawai is such a popular fish for sport and commercial fishermen, numbers have declined in some areas.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is a Kahawai?

A Kahawai is a medium-sized predatory fish native to the coastal waters of New Zealand and Australia. Known scientifically as Arripis trutta, it is highly regarded by anglers for its vigorous fighting ability when hooked. The species plays a significant role in local ecosystems and is also a popular target for recreational fishing.

What does the name 'Kahawai' mean?

The name 'Kahawai' is derived from the Māori language, where it translates to 'water' and 'strong' in English, reflecting the fish's powerful swimming capabilities and its aquatic habitat. This name is a testament to the cultural significance and the physical attributes of the fish within its native range.

What does a Kahawai look like?

Kahawai have a sleek, torpedo-shaped body with blue-green hues on their back and silver sides, which help them blend into the oceanic environment. They can grow up to 60 cm in length and weigh around 3 kg. Their forked tail and streamlined body are adaptations for speed, making them agile hunters in the water.

What do Kahawai eat?

Kahawai are opportunistic feeders, primarily preying on smaller fish such as anchovies and pilchards. They are known to form large schools and can often be seen feeding frenzies, where they chase baitfish to the surface, causing the water to boil with activity. Their diet reflects their role as important predators in their marine habitats.

Are Kahawai good to eat?

Yes, Kahawai are considered good to eat, with a strong, distinct flavor and dark, oily flesh that is rich in omega-3 fatty acids. They can be prepared in various ways, including smoking, grilling, or baking. However, their taste may not appeal to everyone, and they are often underrated as a table fish.

How can I catch a Kahawai?

To catch a Kahawai, anglers often use lures or bait that mimic small fish, casting into schools of baitfish where Kahawai are likely to be hunting. They are known for their acrobatic leaps and energetic fight, making them a favorite among sport fishers. It's important to check local regulations for size and bag limits to ensure sustainable fishing practices.

WiseGEEK is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.

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