Friday, February 19, 2016

Hoki Fish: A Potential Fishy College Mascot? By Don Orth

What college has the dumbest mascot?   This Bleacher Report post includes the Virginia Tech Hokies among the 23 dumbest mascots.  (Full Disclosure, I have two degrees from Oklahoma State University where the mascot for the Cowboys is a crusty old cowboy named Pistol Pete.  Before Pistol Pete, they struggled for 35 years as Agriculturists or Aggies, the Farmers, and officially but unpopularly, the Tigers)    I am not a big fan of these lists and rankings. This post makes me wonder who David Luther is and what criteria and evidence he used to develop the list.  But Mascots can and do change.  There may be a new fish in Virginia Tech's future.

Virginia Tech’s original mascot, the Gobbler, was so lame that it was eventually replaced by the Hokie.  But what's a hokie, you ask? The name comes from an early 20th century cheer.

Hoki, Hoki, Hoki, Hy.
Techs, Techs, V.P.I.
Sola-Rex, Sola-Rah.
Polytechs - Vir-gin-ia.
Rae, Ri, V.P.I.

The Hokie bird mascot, resembling a maroon and orange turkey-like bird, is much beloved by today’s Hokies.  Since the last makeover in 1987, the Hokie Bird has maintained a consistent look.  You can follow the Hokie bird mascot @TheHokieBird on Twitter along with 16,700 other followers! The purpose of a mascot is to inspire fans.  If a mascot is working, then there is no reason to change. But the mascot changed once, it could happen again.  Couldn’t it?  The Hokie Bird is very busy and Virginia Tech is expanding; perhaps a Hokie Fish would be a welcome helper.
Virginia Tech's Hokie Bird mascot.  Source

But what fish would have wide appeal?  Is there a Hokie fish?  Few colleges have fish as mascots.  There the Palm Beach Atlantic University Sailfish, Muskegum Muskies, University of Virginia Wahoos, and the Fighting Salmon.   If Virginia Tech selected a fish, would it be Brook Trout, Blacknose Dace, Bluehead Chub, Walleye, or Flathead Catfish?   Each of these fish has strong local connections to habitats.  The Brook Trout is the icon of high elevation Appalachian mountain streams.  Blacknose Dace is more widespread, occurring in small streams from the mountains to the urban streams; it should be the official fish of Blacksburg since it dominates in Stroubles Creek and tributaries.  The Bluehead Chub is another local favorite due to its macho head tubercles and gravel-mound building habits.  "Chubby" appears on Blacksburg parade floats since 2015The Walleye is a terrific food and sport fish and a unique river-spawning form exists in the upper New River.  But if you want a big, tough mascot I suggest you pick the Flathead Catfish, a large fish-eating catfish that grows as large as a VW (No, not quite.).  

There is a fish named the Hoki. At least at the fish market, the Blue Grenadier Macruronus novaezelandiae (Hector 1871) is referred to as the Hoki.  Is the Hoki fishery cutting it? Would it be a worthy mascot?  The Blue Grenadier, is a member of the merluccid hakes (Merlucciidae) in the order of cods (Gadiformes).  
Blue Grenadier Macruronus novaezelandiae (Hector 1871) or Hoki. Source.
The Blue Grenadier (aka Hoki ) schools in the mesopelagic zone in waters from 200-700 m deep.  The body form is very elongate and compressed with a tapering tail, dorsal and anal fins confluent with the caudal fin.  It is a visual predator with large eyes.   The long body provides for a long lateral line and that distant touch sense.   It might be a challenge to develop an anthropomorphic Hoki Fish design.  It certainly is no Charlie the Tuna.  

The Hoki’s habitat, the mesopelagic zone, is a difficult environment even for a fish.   To begin with there is insufficient light for photosynthesis. So consumers must rely on poop or detritus from the epipelagic zone, or they must expend limited energy reserves to migrate up into epipelagic zone to find food and do this at night to avoid predators. Second, it's cold, very cold, only 4-8°C.  Oxygen levels at these depths are at minimal levels, so metabolism is slow and, perhaps, life is boring for the Hoki.  The Hoki must grow to 65-70 cm to reach sexual maturity; it takes 4-7 years.  The Hoki can reach 120 cm and 1.5 kg, but that may take a long time, up to 25 years!

With it's large toothy mouth, the Hoki feeds on a variety of small fishes, especially lanternfishes (family Myctophidae), crustaceans such as prawns, euphausiids, galatheids, and squids (Bulman and Blaber 1986; Brickle et al. 2009; Connell et al. 2010)
Common diet items of the Hoki.  Top row: Natant decapods, Squat Lobster (Galatheidae), Shrimp (Pasiphaeidae), and Krill (Ephausiidae)   Second row: Marine Hatchetfish (Sternoptychidae),  Slender Lanternfish (Gonichthys barnesi),  Thorntooth Grenadier (Lepidorhynchus denticulatus) Third row: Silver lighthouse fish (Photichthys argenteus), squid (Lycoteuthis lorigera)
The Hoki must move up in the water column to feed at night. Vertical migration is an adaptation of many mesopelagic fish and invertebrates (Watanabe et al. 1999). These vertical migrations often occur over a large vertical distance with the aid of a physoclistous swim bladder.  They appear to follow migrations of other mesopelagic fish prey.  McClatchie et al. (2005) found that "catch rate of hoki was correlated with the abundance of vertically migrating mesopelagic fish.”  One would think these fish would be safe from humans.  But we humans love our fish nuggets and fish sticks, so even deepwater fish are harvested.

The Hoki is one of the most valuable New Zealand fisheries, where catches since 1987 ranged between between 200,000 and 250,000 tonnes (Coombs and Cordue 1995). It is also an important commercial fish off Victoria and Tasmania in Australia. Much of the fish in the McDonald's Fillet-O-Fish Burger sold in Australia (and all of it in New Zealand) is the Hoki.     McDonald’s in North America used to use the Hoki, but stopped using Hoki in 2013 in favor of Alaskan pollock. Another species of Hoki is harvested off Argentina.  The Argentine Hoki (Macruronus magellanicus) fishery received Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) certification in May 2012

Hoki are caught using bottom and midwater trawl gear towed from large trawlers. Travel to New Zealand and watch a Hoki trawler in action.  Is the Hoki fishery sustainable?  There are problems with this fishery.  Bycatch of seals and seabirds  (albatrosses and petrels) is a major problem.  The seals and seabirds are attracted to fishing vessels as an opportunistic source of food.  "The New Zealand fishery kill 200-300 fur seals per year. The Australian fishery is limited to 30 seal deaths per year. Both fisheries are implementing seal exclusion devices to reduce seal bycatch.   Seabird bycatch is more difficult to reduce. 

After the Hoki fishery was first certified in 2001, the Royal Forest and Bird Protection Society of New Zealand filed an objection with MSC and requested that certification be withdrawn.  By 2007, several conditions were placed on the fishery with regard to seabird bycatch and by 2010 the Hoki fishery was not killing a lot of seabirds (Deepwater Group Limited 2011; Wiedenfeld 2012).   

The Marine Stewardship Council, is a non-profit organization that certifies fisheries sustainability based on three principles, namely (1) Sustainable fish stocks; (2) Minimizing environmental impact; and (3) Effective management (Marine Stewardship Council 2010).  Each fishery is scored based on 31 performance indicators.  Fisheries that want the certification pay US$20,000 to more than $100,000 to an independent, for-profit contractor that assesses the fishery against the MSC standards and determines whether to recommend certification.   Is this an automatic conflict of interest based on a self-serving free market entity? Or is it a viable free market solution for sustainable solution (Jacquet et al. 2010)?  At the moment, the MSC is the dominant organization certifying sustainability for wild-capture fisheries for sale at markets, such as Whole Foods Market.   Alternatives, such as The Safina Center’s Sustainable Seafood program, do exist.
Hoki Spawning stock biomass trajectories approach the sustainability target of 35-50% of long-term spawning biomass in absence of fishing.  DeepWater Group Limited 2011.
While the Hoki is a large and important commercial fish and its fishery is working towards sustainability goals, I don't think I can generate enthusiasm for naming a Hoki Fish as a new or additional Virginia Tech mascot. The "You're not from around here" sentiment may be too strong.   The Hokie Bird is wildly popular and one of the proud VT traditions. Plus the Hokie Bird reminds us of the eastern Wild Turkey conservation success story.   So it turns out that David Luther is wrong; Hokie Bird is not a dumb mascot.   But the idea of a Hokie Fish mascot is one that needs further work.  If you have a good fish to nominate, please comment here. 


Bulman, C.M., and S.J.M. Blaber.1986. Feeding ecology of Macruronus novaezealandiae (Hector) (Teleostei : Merluciidae) in south-eastern Australia. Australian Journal of Marine and Freshwater Research 37: 621-639
Connell, A.M., M.R. Dunn, and J. Forman. 2010. Diet and dietary variation of New Zealand hoki Macruronus novaezelandiae.   New Zealand Journal of Marine and Freshwater Research  44(4):289-308.
Coombs, R.F., and P.L. Cordue. 1995. Evolution of a stock assessment tool: acoustic surveys of spawning hoki () off the west coast of South Island, New Zealand, 1985–1991. New Zealand Journal of Marine and Freshwater Research 29: 175–194.
DeepWater Group Limited.  2011.  Sustainable management of New Zealand’s Hoki fisheries      
Jacquet, J. D., D. Pauly, S. Ainley, S. Holt, P. Dayton, and J. Jackson.  2010. Seafood stewardship in crisis. Nature 467 (7311): 28–29. doi:10.1038/467028a
Marine Stewardship Council. 2010.  Principles and Criteria for Sustainable Fishing.    available at
McClatchie, S., M. Pinkerton, and M.E. Livingston, 2005. Relating the distribution of a semi-demersal fish, Macruronus novaezelandiae, to their pelagic food supply. Deep-sea Research I: Oceanographic Research Papers 52:1489–1501.
Watanabe, H., M. Moku, K. Kawaguchi, K. Ishimaru, and A. Ohno. 1999. Diel vertical migration of myctophid fishes (Family Myctophidae) in the transitional waters of the western North Pacific. Fisheries Oceanography 8(2):115-127
Wiedenfeld, D.A. 2012. Analysis of the effects of Marine Stewardship Council fishery certification on the conservation of seabirds.  American Bird Conservancy.  The Plains, Virginia.  40 pp.


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