The snakehead fish is a fascinating and terrifying creature. In popular culture, they have been dubbed the “frankenfish” for their unique ability to breathe air and survive on land. They are also a notorious invasive species. Now that they are being found in US waterways, you may wonder, can you eat snakehead fish?
Why Is This Fish Called a Snakehead?
Named for their elongated body, they have sharp, dagger-like teeth. Their bottom jaw holds imposing canine teeth. Their dorsal fin runs most of the length of their body and makes them powerful and fast swimmers.
There are many species of snakeheads with a wide range of sizes. Dwarf snakeheads are no more than ten inches in length, while the five largest species can reach more than three feet long and 19 pounds.
What Are They Like?
They are an aggressive fish that will defend themselves or their young. There are reports of people being bitten when they got too close. The snakehead fish is an ancient creature, likely originating in the Himalayas more than 50 million years ago. Their diet can include insects, other fish, amphibians, or even small rodents.
Their most startling characteristic is their ability to travel short distances over land. Snakeheads can breathe air, allowing them to survive on land for up to four days. They wriggle their bodies and fins to propel themself across the land.
Where Are They Found?
Native to China, Southern Siberia, and North Korea, the snakehead is now found in many places worldwide. They have been introduced to nonindigenous waters for the past 100 years. As an apex predator with a lack of natural enemies, the snakehead fish thrives when introduced to a new body of water. They are considered a destructive invasive species.
In the US, they have been found in the Potomac River, the Chesapeake Bay, ponds in Maryland, and in open water in Arkansas, Florida, Virginia, Delaware, and New York. They have recently been spotted in Ontario, Canada. Maryland has an annual snakehead fishing derby. There are prizes for the largest fish and demonstrations on how to fillet the meat.
Is It Edible?
So, can you eat a snakehead fish? This invasive species is also known as a valuable food source. The first snakeheads were introduced into foreign waters to provide food for people. In many cultures, a snakehead fish is a prized fish for eating.
Chefs have begun cooking the snakehead in the USA as a way of controlling their invasion into American waterways. In Vietnam, the snakehead fish is often cooked in a clay pot, pickled, or steamed. In Indonesia, the snakehead fish is considered a delicacy.
What Does It Taste Like?
The unappealing look of the snakehead can keep people from wanting to eat them. Their reputation as an aggressive, air-breathing monster isn’t particularly appetizing. If people can get past the aesthetics, they will find the flaky white meat is pleasantly firm and has no fishy-aftertaste or smell.
Equally tasty grilled, barbequed, or breaded and deep-fried, a snakehead fillet is very versatile. In a Washington Post taste test, the breaded snakehead was preferred over the standby Cod.
Is It Safe to Eat?
The snakehead fish is safe to eat and was originally introduced into new waterways as a food source.
Can You Eat It Raw?
You can safely eat snakehead raw, assuming it has been handled with care like any raw fish.
Snakehead fish is classified as an invasive species. This means there is no season and no limit, so you can catch as much as you want. In the US, the snakehead is known as an ugly, aggressive invader, but it was intentionally introduced as a food source in other parts of the world. If you can get past the grisly appearance and grotesque ability to travel on land, the snakehead can be a tasty meal.