Leo Mulipola found a lifeline in a load of fish heads.
Mr. Mulipola, 49, has struggled to find even an entry-level job at a gas station during the coronavirus pandemic and is now unemployed. So, with a household of six to feed, he jumped at the chance to pick up donated snapper and bluenose heads at a Maori community hall in Auckland, New Zealand.
The hall, known as a marae in the Maori language, has been distributing two tons of fish a week — the parts often discarded in commercial and recreational fishing — to families affected by New Zealand’s sputtering economy.
“It would be $150 to get a meal like this,” said Mr. Mulipola, adding that he planned to roast or fry the fish, whose cheeks contain a good amount of fatty meat and whose eyes he called tasty.
Maori and Pacific Islanders don’t need any convincing about the value of these donations. Far from being scraps, fish heads are prized as a “chiefly” food in Polynesian culture, creating an equilibrium where one person’s trash is another’s treat.
But this effort to feed those in need isn’t just a matter of charity. It’s part of a movement to reduce food waste by encouraging people to consume or otherwise use more parts of fish, which are typically stripped of their fillets and then tossed away. For every pound of fish produced by the seafood industry, roughly double that amount becomes waste, though much of it is edible.