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.