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The mighty tarpon and the “trash fish” are two (technically, three) infamous species that are regarded for the distasteful, smelly, and potentially hazardous experience they present when considering whether to bring your catch to the dinner table or not. Most say no to the idea of eating either of these fish, but is it really so bad if you do decide to feast on them?
Can you eat tarpon or saltwater catfish? The short answer is yes, both tarpon and catfish are completely edible. However, not many people enjoy eating them due to the strong odor and plentiful bones in the tarpon, and sliminess, serrated fins, and mild toxins of the saltwater catfish.
Although there is nothing that actually makes these species officially inedible, there are a few things you may want to consider before preparing them for dinner. There are many obstacles to catching the tarpon and for the saltwater catfish, challenges to handling and processing them. Consider these challenges to decide whether or not the quality of the meal will be worth the trouble.
Can You Eat Tarpon?
Weighing anywhere between 60 to 280 pounds, the enormous tarpon fish is one of the world’s most prized fish. The species is respected and coveted by anglers due to their massive size and the challenge they present at catching. Although it has no official commercial value, this fish is a marvel of the natural world and a fitting challenge for an angler who is up for a fight.
This ancient species is also known for its unusual habit of swimming to the water’s surface to “gulp” air, which allows them to effectively breathe through its swim bladder. This is unusual for a fish because normally, the swim bladder is used for buoyancy and the intake of oxygen is left to the gills. Even in its juvenile stage, the “poon” is an obligate air breather.
Although it may seem like a disadvantage, it actually allows the tarpon to survive in low-oxygen waters, as they have their “gulping” method to sustain them.
This is all to say that the tarpon is just another fish species with, albeit, unusual habits, but nothing that makes them particularly inedible. The popular aversion to eating them is based purely on practicality: they are not fun or easy fish to catch and process.
Although it doesn’t taste particularly bad, its flavor doesn’t exactly make up for its smell or the excessive amount of bones you have to pick through to enjoy it.
How to Cook a Tarpon
On the Gas recommends, in order to enjoy your tarpon dining experience, “poaching the crap out of it” and essentially burying the fish in spices, so you don’t exactly have to taste it. Now, you might wonder: “Why to bother cooking it if the aim is to not taste the fish?” Well, that’s what I’m wondering, too.
The point of this is if you are someone who, by tradition and obligation, eats every catch you make, this is one of the best routes you can take in order to enjoy your tarpon. Bon Appetit!
Can You Eat Saltwater Catfish?
The infamous saltwater catfish. Also known as the “hardhead catfish” and the “gaff-topsail catfish,” these species can be found in brackish waters and along the shores of the southeast Atlantic and Gulf coasts of North America. Unfortunately, these fish are not considered to be particularly a “prize” catch. Many are caught by anglers who are actually aiming for something better.
This is because the species is notorious for stealing bait from anglers fishing for species such as Red Drum, Spotted Seatrout, and Sand Seatrout. They will even fight seatrout that is similar in size.
Although they are not exactly admired for their taste or size (the two species range between 1 to 10 pounds), they are occasionally commercially harvested by bottom trawling. In the instance that they are intentionally caught by anglers, they are used as live bait for luring larger species.
Same as the tarpon, there is nothing that makes the saltwater catfish inedible. Some say that the gafftop is supposedly more enjoyable than the hard head.
Despite them being edible, they are not too enjoyable to process and cook. This is primarily due to two main things: they are disturbingly slimy, and the spine along their dorsal fin is poisonous.
Handle Saltwater Catfish With Care
There is a bit more merit to the argument of inedibility when it comes to the gafftopsail catfish, or “sailcat.” Both species of saltwater catfish have serrated spines on their dorsal and pectoral fins that can inflict serious puncture wounds if you’re not careful.
Along with these serrated spines comes a mild toxin that won’t put you in the hospital, but will definitely make any punctures or scratches hurt a lot more. Injuries typically occur when a fisherman is attempting to remove the hook from the fish’s mouth. The fish thrashes around, and the angler is caught by one of the barbs.
Either this or walking through shallow waters with weak water shoes or no protection at all will lead to injury, which should be brought to your doctor’s attention if you notice any redness or swelling after the incident.
Both species do have this mild toxin, but what makes the gafftop worse as a potential meal is that it is notably slimier than the hardhead, lending itself to a much more unpleasant experience in processing.
How to Cook a Saltwater Catfish
Similar to the tarpon, the catfish doesn’t really provide too much meat for the trouble it puts forth. Their small size doesn’t offer much in the way of meat, and the hazards of handling the fish may make you want to think twice about cooking it.
One recipe you can try is preparing the fish like a standard fish fry: roll it in flour and panko bread crumbs along with your seasonings of choice and fry it until its lightly browned. Some have found that this recipe is actually quite good!
Are the Fish Worth the Trouble?
The choice of whether or not to cook the tarpon or catfish is completely up to you. Regarding the tarpon, unless you enjoy drowning your meals in strong spices and other flavors, preparing a meal from this catch may not be for you. On the other hand, many anglers choose to cook their catch out of tradition and respect for the animal.
This is a lot easier said with the tarpon than the catfish, given that there is a lot more pride in catching such a massive animal versus a 1-to-10-pound “trash fish.”
In the way of the catfish, the choice to cook it poses more of a challenge because of the hazards it presents. Again, many fishers don’t actually target this species when fishing – if they do, it’s to use it as bait for tastier, more valuable species.
The presence of the serrated fins and the toxin make for a hazardous experience if deciding to harvest this species for consumption. Along with that, there is not much meat to make it worth the trouble. That said, you also want to consider the age and experience of the person catching and processing the fish.
Someone who is new to the experience or a young child definitely does not want to be poisoned by a saltwater catfish or exposed to the offensive odor of the tarpon (and the hefty challenge of reeling one of those monsters in) as their introduction to fishing. The most important thing to keep in mind when deciding to eat a tarpon or a catfish is safety: eat your catch if you please, but always take the necessary precautions.