Story of The Catch

Leigh Harbor, New Zealand

Leigh Harbor, New Zealand

Inshore Long-Liners

  • 25 boats total
  • 6-24 hours per trip
  • Targeting Snapper & other valuable inshore species (Trevally, Scorpion, Gurnard, Tarakihi, Kingfish, etc)
  • Long-line method of fishing is considered superior because it brings the fish up alive
  • Labor intensive and smaller quantities but this fishing method results in the highest possible quality of fish (opposite of the high-volume/low-quality methods (i.e. trawling, etc) employed by other companies
  • Sustainable / size specific (hook-size limits mean smaller fish are not caught)
  • All catch is regulated by the NZ Quota Management system annual Total Allowable Commercial Catch (TACC)
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    Setting The Lines

  • The main-line is lowered into the sea and every 6 feet a branch-line is clipped to it with its own hook and bait (usually a piece of pilchard or squid)
  • The main-line is set so the branch-lines are sitting at the optimum height just above the seafloor to target the demersal (bottom-dwelling) fish like Snapper, Gurnard, Tarakihi and Scorpion fish. The fishermen are typically fishing at depths of 60-300 feet
  • Once the entire line is fed into the water, the fishermen wait 20 minutes then back up to the main-line and start hauling
  • As the main-line is hauled aboard, the fish come up alive one at a time and are taken care of individually
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    IKI-JIME – A Process Which Kills The Fish Instantly Preserving Freshness/Taste
    One by one the hooked fish are brought aboard the boat live and placed onto a sponge pad before being spiked directly in the brain, which causes an instant and painless death. This Iki-Jime technique draws all the blood to the gut cavity, away from the meat of the fish, resulting in a much cleaner tasting fillet. The muscles stop moving which keeps the fish from expending energy. In turn, this deters a buildup of lactic acid, preserving the fish’s great taste. The fish gently enter a prolonged state of rigor mortis and their shelf-life is greatly extended. This means that our fish arrive to the customer in that perfect ‘just-caught’ state.

    The Lee Fish Difference:
    Back in the 1980’s, Japan’s most discerning seafood procurers came to New Zealand to find a source for ‘Tai’ Snapper (a very important species for them) as their wild stocks were dwindling. They found the Tai Snapper from the Hauraki gulf and surrounding areas to have the perfect color, flavor and fat content. In addition, the Japanese taught Leigh’s fishermen the stringent techniques in how to catch and kill the fish so to ensure the quality of the fish is preserved. LEE FISH’s Tai Snapper is of the highest quality in the world as judged by the most discriminating Japanese authorities. The good news is that this same high quality ‘Lee’ brand fish is now available for distribution not only in Japan but also in the USA, Europe and the rest of Asia!

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    Chilling The Fish

  • After the process of Iki-Jime, each fish is plunged directly into an ice slurry. They remain there until the core-temperature of the fish reaches around 1°C (33°F).
  • As the core temperature decreases, the fish enter a gentle prolonged state of rigor mortis.
  • ‘Slurrying’ is much more effective in lowering temperature than merely packing the fish in ice. The water/ice slurry mix rapidly draws heat away from the fish, chilling it quickly. All our boats use the slurry method.
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    After the core-temperature has reached 1 degree C (33 F) the fish are taken out of the slurry and individually packed into Iki Bins on a bed of ice. These small plastic bins act as mini-refrigerators where the fish lie belly-side down to prevent the ice from being in contact with the flesh (so there’s no chance of ice-burn or discoloration). The fish remain in the Iki Bin, in the chilled hold of the boat, until the end of the day when they return to port to be unloaded.

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    Seems Like a lot of work

    That’s right, it sure is. But that’s the legacy which Lee Fish embodies. The boats do short trips (6-24 hours). They use sustainable fishing methods. They have a labor intensive method of catching the fish, which involves taking special care of each and every specimen that comes aboard, making sure it is received in perfect condition and undergoes the perfect Iki-Jime – Slurry – Iki-Bin refrigeration process.


    The result is a very high-quality, high-valued fish. This is why the Lee Fish brand is recognized worldwide for its excellence and is the preferred choice for fresh fish from New Zealand. Our sustainable long-line catching methods can’t compare to others who use the trawling technique where thousands of fish are crammed into a net being dragged behind a trawler. This trawling system creates an environment where the fish are crushed and drown. The fish are then brought aboard and dumped in a fish hold in direct contact with ice. There is simply no comparison!

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    The Unload

    On the boat’s arrival into Leigh Harbor, a refrigerated truck is waiting to receive the day’s catch and transport it back to the Leigh Fisheries factory which is less than a mile away.

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    Packing For Export

  • Once unloaded off the trucks, the fish are graded by expert graders and carefully hand-packed into Styrofoam boxes. At all times, gloves are worn to prevent any body heat from warming the fish. Once the fish are packed in the box, a layer of plastic is placed over the fish and a bag containing crushed salt-water ice is spread on top. This layer of plastic between the ice and fish prevents any kind of ice burn on the fish. The method of packing the fish seen above is called ‘soldier style’ and is an ideal method for transportation that prevents any kind of damage to the fish.
  • Only Lee premium products make their way oversees. Any fish that does not make the grade is kept for sale on the domestic market.
  • Complete Traceability
    Each packed box has the name of the species, weight, name of the fisherman, fishing boat, plus a barcode enabling complete traceability for every box that is distributed worldwide.

    The fish cartons are then palletized and loaded on to one of our many trucks and dispatched to Auckland International Airport (1 ½ hours south).

    Our fish flies daily out of Auckland and into Los Angeles (LAX). This is a 12-hour flight and puts the fish into the US market approximately 24 hours after having left the water.

    Back down in New Zealand dawn breaks and the boats begin their daily cycle once again.

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  • Friend Of The Sea Certification 2013-2016

    Friend Of The Sea Certification 2013-2016

    Another year of hard work pays off with even more Friend Of The Sea Sustainable Seafood Certific[...]