More than $584,000 worth of New Zealand eel was shipped to US wholesalers last year, up from $271,000 in the previous year – a growth of 115 per cent. Brad Matheny, senior director of Hawaiian Airlines cargo division, says that the carrier’s own figures indicate strong growth for the niche export, although transporting them is not a straightforward issue.
“New Zealand freshwater eels need to be kept at a specific temperature and have a limited shelf-life,” he explains. “By reducing transit time, we have increased the speed at which we can bring the goods to market and ultimately improving the freshness of the product on arrival.”
The growth in the US contrasts with the global trend, which has seen New Zealand eel sales drop 39 per cent. Sales to North America now account for a third of all live eel exports.