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Can You Eat Saltwater Catfish?

Catfish are fascinating creatures that have caught the attention of pet owners, fishermen, and individuals the world over.

hardhead catfish laying in the sand on the beach

Some even enjoy the occasional sea-faring meal with this fish as the star attraction. This begs the question: are all catfish edible? More specifically, can you eat saltwater catfish?

What Are Saltwater Catfish?

Before answering the main question, it might be helpful to know a little more about this critter.

Catfish are a type of freshwater or saltwater-dwelling fish most renowned for structures called barbels on their faces that look like whiskers on a cat.

closeup of whiskers on a saltwater catfish

They can be small enough to dwell at the bottom of an aquarium or large enough to give seasoned fishermen a good fight. Many different species of saltwater catfish reside in oceans and seas.

Do People Eat Saltwater Catfish?

When asking about the edibility of any product, safety is a main concern. Some catfish can “sting” and emit a painful poison, but this worry would mainly be during the fishing side of the equation.

Saltwater catfish are believed to have no substances or qualities that make them unsafe to eat.

fillet of saltwater catfish ready to cook

One caveat, though: stay away from overly polluted areas, because the catfish can absorb these toxins into their systems. So, the safety questions are answered, but what about the big question for a lot of culinary lovers?

What Does It Taste Like?

While you can eat saltwater catfish, does it taste good? Much like any food option, opinions wildly vary on the taste of saltwater catfish.

The freshwater varieties tend to be more popular on seafood menus. Many individuals have developed quite a taste for saltwater catfish, too.

cooked fillet of saltwater catfish

Some of those with an affinity claim saltwater species are similar in taste to freshwater catfish. Others liken the taste to other fish types such as sea trout. Still, others prefer to set their catch free because the taste is not for them.

The only palate that ultimately matters in this taste test is yours and yours alone.

Freshwater vs Saltwater Catfish

Freshwater and saltwater catfish do have contrasts that might impact their suitability as a meal. For one, saltwater catfish tend to be smaller at three pounds or fewer. Therefore, they have less delectable meat to offer.

freshwater catfish swimming in the water

In addition, saltwater catfish have the aforementioned spines and slime-like deposits that make them nuisances for many fishermen.

These inconveniences are one of the reasons why you will not see saltwater catfish populating many restaurant kitchens. They also possess thicker skins that are tougher to slice.

Catching and Cooking Saltwater Catfish

All of this being said, perhaps you still want to take on a more unique seafood experience.

If so, you can choose from two main types of East Coast-dwelling saltwater catfish: the silverish–a Gafftop Catfish with a trademark dorsal fin–or the Hardhead Catfish.

fried catfish dinner

Since these fish frequent the same near-coastal and brackish waters (many times even schooling together), they often indulge in a similar diet.

This fact is important because what a fish eats can ultimately have an effect on your own eating experience. These very hungry bottom-feeders taste “fishier” the more they consume food around muddy areas.

Raw Meat

Always keep in mind that when it comes to fish, improperly stored raw fish can cause serious illness that may even lead to hospitalization.

raw saltwater catfish fillets

With this information in mind, you should also know that you cannot consume raw catfish. 

Cooking Time

If you’re preparing a fresh catch, you’ll want to take precautions like avoiding contact with the spines and using extra-sharp cutting utensils to deal with the thicker skin.

For cooking itself, you can improve the taste experience by finding a good recipe with fried or other options.

saltwater catfish cooking in a pan

Final Thoughts

If you’ve never tried saltwater catfish before, you might be missing out! Some people thoroughly enjoy the taste of saltwater catfish, and there are a number of ways to prepare it to your specific tastes.

Don’t be afraid to give this fish a try next time you find one at the end of your fishing line!

Rocco Smith

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