Can You Eat Saltwater Catfish? You May Be Surprised!

There are several species known as ‘saltwater catfish‘ – two of the most commonly known species in North America are the Gafftopsail and the Hardhead catfish.

Saltwater catfish have gained a bad reputation amongst fishermen for being a nuisance and making a slimy mess of your line.

Despite the negatives above, some anglers still wonder if can you eat saltwater catfish, and would you even want to? What do they taste like?

Keep reading to find out…you may be surprised!

Table of Contents

Can You Eat Saltwater Catfish?

You may be surprised to hear that saltwater catfish are perfectly good table fare. In fact, there are very few fish that cannot be eaten after being properly cooked.

Can You Eat Saltwater Catfish? You May Be Surprised!
Gafftopsail Catfish
Photo courtesy of species.spotlight

Are Saltwater Catfish Good to Eat?

This is entirely up to everyone’s personal opinion and taste preferences, but I believe they are good eatin’.

Catfish are slimy, and this makes them tough to clean. They also have sharp spines with mild, but painful venom. 

Saltwater catfish have a large rib cage, and for their size, they have a surprisingly small amount of meat. However, they do have a belly meat portion which adds to the total amount. Don’t forget about this perfectly good cut!

Saltwater catfish meat has a very large and dark bloodline which contributes to a fishy flavor. This bloodline can be cut away to reduce the strong flavor.

Their skin is slimy and stretchy. For the best-tasting meat, you’ll want to skin your filets. 

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Gafftopsail vs Hardhead catfish: What’s the Difference?

Gafftopsail and Hardhead catfish are two different species of saltwater catfish. Both species are common and can be found along the West Atlantic, Gulf of Mexico, and the Caribbean. 

Once you see them, identifying these two species is easy.

To tell these apart, you should look at their whiskers and fins. Gafftopsail have a long dorsal fin that extends tall like a sail, hence the name “Gafftopsail.” Gafftopsail catfish also have very long and thick whiskers.

Gafftopsail catfish are much larger and stronger than hardhead catfish. Gafftops frequently reach over 20 inches, while most hardheads are below 15 inches. 

A Hardhead Catfish
Hardhead Catfish
Photo courtesy of species.spotlight

Are Saltwater Catfish Poisonous to Eat?

There is a rumor that saltwater catfish are poisonous if eaten, but this is untrue. Hardhead and Gafftopsail Catfish are not poisonous to eat, at least not directly. Saltwater catfish have venomous spines, so this may be the source of the misinformed rumors.

However, If caught in polluted water, saltwater catfish may have unhealthy toxins or heavy metals.

Catfish are naturally tolerant to pollution, eutrophication, and low oxygen habitats. You should be selective with where you harvest fish from.

Saltwater catfish are bottom feeders. They swim along the bottom and stir up the sediment looking for crustaceans and fish. They also will feed on dead animals.

This means that catfish are more frequently exposed to pollutants and chemicals which settle on the bottom. 

What Does Saltwater Catfish Taste like?

If you’ve ever had freshwater catfish, saltwater catfish are completely different.

The meat is firm, not flakey, and it has a much fishier flavor. If not bled out, the meat is pinkish to orange and has a large, dark bloodline.

The flavor of saltwater catfish varies depending on what they’re eating in the wild. Catfish that feed along a mud bottom likely have a fishier flavor compared to those which feed around clear sandy beaches. 

The reputation of saltwater catfish is mixed, but the taste of saltwater catfish is comparable to many other fish.

Saltwater Catfish Filets
Catfish Filets

Best Way to Cook Saltwater Catfish?

There are a number of ways to prepare and cook saltwater catfish. If you’d like to mask the fishy flavor, you will probably prefer it deep-fried. Saltwater catfish is also good grilled or pan-seared. You can also prepare saltwater catfish for sandwiches or as a fish cake. 

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Frequently Asked Questions

Can You Eat Catfish from the Ocean?

Yes, you can eat catfish from the ocean. Different species of oceanic catfish are commonly eaten around the world. Gafftopsail catfish and hardhead catfish are the most common in North America.

Difference Between Saltwater Catfish and Freshwater Catfish?

Saltwater catfish and freshwater catfish are more similar than they are different. They are both in the catfish family but are adapted to live in different salinities.

Why Don’t People Eat Saltwater Catfish?

Saltwater catfish have gained a poor reputation and therefore are considered undesirable. However, I think there’s nothing wrong with eating saltwater catfish if you’ve caught it in clean water. 

Do you Soak Saltwater Catfish in Saltwater?

Soaking your catfish in saltwater helps with the bleeding process. To bleed your fish, just make a cut along the vein, behind the gill, and along the spine, by the tail.

Can Saltwater Catfish Live in Freshwater?

Sometimes saltwater catfish will swim up rivers and live in freshwater. In some brackish water rivers, it’s possible to catch freshwater catfish and saltwater catfish together.

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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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