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Can You Eat Clownfish and is it Safe?

Clownfish are famous for the starring roles they’ve had in kids’ movies. Their distinctive orange and white stripes make them a favorite for aquariums and saltwater pets. 

clownfish hiding in anemone

Clownfish live in reefs and are an amazing, colorful addition to the coral. They are natural prey, keeping safe by living in highly electrified anemones that would shock any other fish.

The clownfish secretes a slippery mucus from its skin, which prevents them from getting shocked in the anemone and makes them unsafe to eat. 

Do People Eat Clownfish?

People do not eat clownfish because they have a low muscle mass, making them impractical to hunt and eat. It would take nearly a dozen clownfish to create a dish for one person, which isn’t a practical investment for any chef to keep up. 

clownfish and anemone underwater

Most tropical fish are protected from fishing and killing because of the ecological importance they represent in coral reefs and ecosystems. Clownfish is one of the number one ornamental fish but is caught for decoration, not food. 

More importantly than this, clownfish have a thick, syrupy mucus all over their body. It’s for their protection and means that most other fish can’t eat them without feeling adverse effects.

The same is true for humans. Unless you were to take off their skin and most of their meat, it would be impossible to eat clownfish without serious issues. 

Is It Edible?

So, are clownfish edible at all? The answer is no. Like many animals, their bright orange color signifies more than just beauty. It’s a sign for predators to stay away.

clownfish swimming near anemone

They possess a poisonous slime coating that protects them from natural predators, such as larger fish or eels. It also protects them from the electric shocks of the anemone that they live in. 

Clownfish shouldn’t be eaten and aren’t farmed for food anywhere. However, there are clownfish farms for pet stores or private ownership.

These farms don’t create an edible crop because the pets are so toxic. 

What Does It Taste Like?

Because clownfish is not eaten, it’s impossible to know what it tastes like. Because it’s such a small fish, a clownfish probably tastes very fishy and meaty, without many redeeming features.

clownfish in anemone

Food fish are chosen for practical reasons: they are larger, are easier to farm, taste better, or are safer to eat. Clownfish fills none of these criteria and isn’t used as food, so we don’t know how it tastes.

Clownfish have a symbiotic relationship with the anemones they live in. The swishing of the fish fins aerates the plant and increases the water flow through it.

The fish also eat away bacteria and algae from the anemones, bolstering the health of the plant and the entire reef. 

Is Clownfish Safe to Eat?

Can you eat clownfish? The truth is, they’re not really safe to eat in any form. This is not just because it would be a pain to catch, cook, and prepare enough clownfish safely.

clownfish in fron of anemone

It’s also because of their mucus coating, which protects them from the poisonous shocks of the anemone and other fish.

A clownfish’s primary source of protection is the anemone, but the mucus coating affords them some amount of protection while out and about.

This same mucus makes the clownfish unsafe for humans to eat. Not too many studies have been done on the mucus because it’s illegal to hunt and eat tropical fish anyway in some areas.

It’s also impractical to create meals out of clownfish and probably unsafe to eat in any quantity. 

Can You Eat Clownfish Raw?

You cannot eat clownfish cooked or raw. If you can’t eat the cooked fish, it’s dangerous to eat it raw.

two clownfish swimming

The mucus on the outside of clownfish smells terrible when it’s raw. To even eat the fish, you’d have to remove the mucus and the skin, debone the fish and cook it thoroughly. 

If it’s too much work to cook and eat the clownfish, it’s not worth it to eat it raw either. Food poisoning is a serious problem and can result in hospitalization in severe cases.

If you’re looking for an exotic fish, try a larger fish or something a little easier to cook, like Japan’s specialty anglerfish. 

Final Thoughts

You shouldn’t eat clownfish under any circumstances. It is impractical, illegal, and dangerous to eat a fish that officials have not approved.

In nature, brightly colored markings scare off predators and serve as a natural sign that the animal is poisonous, except in rare cases like the parrotfish!

Let the clownfish be beautiful where they are, and watch them swim instead of eating them.

Rocco Smith

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