Are Bonefish Good To Eat? And Should You Ever Keep Them?

Bonefish, otherwise known as the elusive grey ghosts, are a premier gamefish amongst anglers.

They primarily live near the equator and occupy warm, tropical waters around the globe, and are commonly found near tidal flats, mangroves, and river mouths.

They are amongst the top 10 fastest fish in the sea, have an incredibly long lifespan, and are known to test even the best fisherman.

But some anglers wonder, are bonefish good to eat? And, if so, should you ever keep them?

I have a pretty strong opinion on this topic…so grab your cup of coffee and keep reading!

Table of Contents

Are Bonefish Good To Eat?

Technically speaking, bonefish can be eaten, but as their name implies, they are undoubtedly bony and require careful cleaning and preparation before consumption. They are revered as a gamefish, and anglers should practice catch and release.

Bonefish are more commonly eaten in the tropics and Bahamas but are rarely eaten in Florida, or anywhere in the United States for that matter.

Furthermore, due to their diets, bonefish are prone to marine microalgae, which can cause poisoning if eaten. Besides the algae, bonefish may also cause Clupeotoxin poisoning.

Infographic for "Are Bonefish Good To Eat?"

Are Bonefish Catch And Release Only?

Although they are a popular gamefish worldwide, large populations of bonefish are nearly exclusive to the saltwater flats of Florida.

Since fishermen must travel to south Florida for a chance at this prized fish, bonefish have become very valuable to the Florida economy.

In order to preserve the species, FWC authorized measures to make bonefish a catch-and-release-only fishery in 2013. Therefore, the majority of them are released soon after they are caught.

What Makes Bonefish So Special?

Over the past few decades, bonefish have earned a reputation as a formidable gamefish, attracting attention from anglers all over the world.

Their elusiveness, powerful runs, and large size make them one of the hardest fighting inshore fish.

They are difficult to locate due to their slim profile and camouflage colors, and even harder to get to bite.

Are Bonefish Good To Eat? And Should You Ever Keep Them?

Not to mention, the locations they are found are usually warm, tropical flats surrounded by mangroves, sugar white sand and crystal clear blue water…Not a bad place to go fishing eh?

What Do Bonefish Taste Like?

If cleaned, prepared, and deboned correctly bonefish are said to have a sweet semi-firm meat.

Since bonefish are fast swimmers, they tend to have a lot more muscle, which means darker meat with a richer taste.

Are Bonefish Safe To Eat?

Bonefish are known to be poisonous. Not only do they carry marine microalgae, but they are also commonly contaminated with Clupeotoxin.

Clupeotoxin can not be killed with cooking and has a high death rate among humans who consume it.

Is Bonefish Good For You?

Bonefish, like most fish, can be a good source of protein. But due to the numerous toxins that affect them, it is probably safer to release them and in my opinion, you risk getting sick over a fish that should be released.

Man fishing in the Abacos for bonefish

How To Prepare Bonefish

You will need: Spoon, bowl, filet knife, and cutting board

  • Begin by washing the bonefish
  • Take your spoon and begin descaling the fish from the tail to the head (go against the direction of the scales). Bonefish have many large scales and this is a long, messy, and often difficult process
  • Once you are done descaling the fish rinse it again with water
  • Remove the head and guts
  • Butterfly fillet the fish
  • Use your spoon again to scrape the meat from the bones from the tail to the head. Scoop off meat in the direction of the bones.

How To Cook Bonefish

There are several ways to cook bonefish. Many indigenous cultures eat bonefish raw like in sushi, ceviche, or poke styles.

Another popular cooking method is to make fried bonefish cakes with the scooped meat. Splitting the bonefish into two halves and Baking whole is also another common method.

But let me be clear: I do not support keeping and cooking bonefish! However, I respect and understand that in some parts of the world these fish are seen as food first and foremost.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can You Eat Bonefish In Florida?

Any bonefish caught in Florida must be released back into the water. So you cannot eat any bonefish in Florida.

What Are Nicknames For Bonefish?

Bonefish have also been called grey ghost, bananafish, silver bullets, tenny and tenpounder.

Final Thoughts

In Florida where I grew up, catching your first bonefish is a right of passage. Any saltwater fly angler or flats fisherman will tell you, these fish are special.

Not only is it illegal to keep bonefish in Florida, but they are protected in many places around the world.

So even if you are fishing in a location where bonefish may be kept, I strongly recommend catch and release.

Remember, bonefish can live up to 20 years! And small communities all over the Caribbean and Central America rely on the bonefish to attract traveling anglers and tourist revenue.

And in some parts of the world, a bonefish may be a meal to feed an entire family.

If you want to catch a similar fish, and turn it into a delicious fried fish sandwich…go after redfish instead. They are found in similar locations, and have much less bones!

Thanks for reading.

Growing up in Florida, I’ve been surrounded by saltwater my entire life…and I love sharing my passion with others.

To learn more about why I started Saltwater Mecca, visit the ABOUT page.

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