The Tale of the Toheroa |

The Tale of the Toheroa

A large delicately flavored shellfish known as the Toheroa is endemic to the northern island of New Zealand. Unfortunately these once prime seafood delicacies that were exported around the world are at dangerously low levels.
The toheroa lives in a hinged shell and has a highly developed tongue for digging deep down into the sand. They can grow up to eight inches long and can live for up to eighteen years. The meat has a delicate flavor and is reminiscent of mussels, if a little stronger and creamier. Due to the green coloring derived from plankton in the gut, toheroa meat is a rather murky green color.
The toheroa played a large part in the New Zealand Christmas lunch before their stocking levels began to run low. They were ground up to be made into a soup as a traditional start to the meal. But in 1905 the British Prince of Wales went to visit New Zealand and on tasting the toheroa immediately ordered them to be exported to Europe. Two canneries were opened in the 1900’s and a further one followed. A horse drawn plough harvested the shellfish and by 1940 77 tons of toeroa were being canned and exported worldwide. Unfortunately, levels of the shellfish began to run low due to many reasons including a cooler temperature and algal blooms and by 1969 the canneries closed down. By 1980 the levels had dropped still lower and collecting toheroa was banned.
Every ten years or so the New Zealand Ministry of Fisheries allows a one day open season whereby thousands of people flock to the shores to collect toheroa. But they are banned from using any metal digging apparatus and must either use their hands or sticks. Only the indigenous Maori people are allowed permits for collecting small amounts of the shellfish as they are used in many of their ancient traditional gatherings. The Ministry of Fisheries patrols the beaches looking for poachers who can be fined $250 New Zealand ($180 US) and sentenced to five years in prison.
During the 1950’s toheroa fritters became very popular but nowadays recipes calling for toheroa are often substituted with the tua tua clam. Unfortunately, dishes made with this clam don’t have the green tinge of the toheroa so spinach is often added to rectify this but they still don’t have quite the same delicious flavor that the toheroa is so famed for. It is said that an American once tried to buy New Zealand just so that he could have the exclusive rights to this special shellfish.
Photos courtesy of wikimedia commons


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