Can You Eat Saltwater Catfish? A Simple Cleaning and Cooking Guide

Published Categorized as Fish Or Seafood, Guide Tagged

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Preparing freshwater catfish for dinner might be considered an ideal meal for some. And while most fish are deemed delicious no matter the preparation, some of us have wondered whether saltwater catfish can join their relatives on the dinner plate. Here’s a simple cleaning and cooking guide.

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What Are Saltwater Catfish?

Before we figure out whether saltwater catfish are palatable, it may be helpful to know a little more about this fish. Catfish are either saltwater or freshwater fish, commonly recognized through the barbed spikes protruding from their faces that look a lot like cat whiskers.

They come in all shapes and sizes, ranging from small to very big, residing in oceans and seas. Many fishermen have to put up a fight to catch some of them!

Can You Eat Saltwater Catfish?

Sometimes catfish are labeled as trash fish, and while this may be true for some species, let’s take a look at the broader aspect of these types of fish and whether they can be eaten or not.

Some, such as hardhead and gaff top catfish, tend to sting, as opposed to other species of fish. Apart from this, there is no evidence provided deeming them unsafe to eat and that can prevent us from consuming saltwater catfish. You can eat saltwater catfish, providing that they have been cleaned thoroughly, with the venomous areas stripped and cut.

Can You Eat Saltwater Catfish? A Simple Cleaning And Cooking Guide

Saltwater vs Freshwater Catfish

The taste of saltwater catfish is probably the most noticeable difference between these types of fish, whereas freshwater catfish provide a milder taste, as opposed to saltwater catfish’s fishier flavor, which is most certainly worth eating. Apart from that, there are some additional distinct differences that separate the two from each other.

Saltwater catfish are much smaller compared to their freshwater relatives. Some types of freshwater catfish are similar in size to saltwater species; however, since there are many more varieties of freshwater catfish compared to saltwater catfish, you’ll find much larger ones in the mix.

Furthermore, though both saltwater and freshwater catfish are distinctly poisonous, realistically, saltwater catfish are known to immediately sting if you were to pick them up, meaning that they are more venomous in comparison.

Is Saltwater Catfish Edible or Poisonous?

Saltwater catfish have extremely sharp spikes on their back that emit venom or poison. These poisonous barbs are mainly used by the catfish in self-defense, so once it is attacked, it will erect its poisonous spikes in a merciless attempt to sting its perpetrator. The sting of a saltwater catfish is normally compared to a bee sting but far more intense.

However, this does not mean that saltwater catfish are inedible; as long as you’re not planning to make a meal out of those poisonous spikes, then the meat of the catfish is perfectly safe to consume. This is why it’s important to know how to slice and cook this fish safely.

Can You Eat Saltwater Catfish? A Simple Cleaning And Cooking Guide

How to Clean Saltwater Catfish?

Generally, saltwater catfish are quite slimy, meaning that they are pretty tricky to handle, especially when attempting to clean them. Since saltwater catfish have poisonous areas, i.e. fins and sharp spines, it’s best to work meticulously when cleaning them so that it is safe to eat. Here’s how to clean saltwater catfish:

  1. Using a sharp knife, cut the skin off the saltwater catfish starting from the fin down to the tail on either side before removing the head
  2. Remove the skin from the saltwater catfish, and cut the meat in half
  3. Wash the fish meat under the water

Cooking Saltwater Catfish

The taste of saltwater catfish is definitely worth experiencing, and some believe that the best way to enjoy the flavors of saltwater catfish is through pan-frying. However, you can serve baked catfish with a side of French fries or grilled saltwater catfish drizzled with lemon juice, and it’ll taste even better than deep-fried fish when coupled with your favorite hot sauce if you wish.

Does Saltwater Catfish Taste Good?

Whether saltwater catfish tastes good or not boils down to personal preference. If the saltwater catfish spent most of its life in freshwater consuming fresh foods, then it should provide a slightly mild flavor.

Many people claim that saltwater catfish tastes like other white meat ocean fish or ocean trout. Generally mild, with a hint of ocean saltiness that seems to hit the spot.

On the other hand, saltwater catfish feed mostly by scavenging mud flats, meaning that they tend to consume lots of garbage, especially when they live in dirty waters, which is why you’ll find that they acquire a potent, muddy, fishy flavor.

Overall, both freshwater and saltwater catfish taste pretty similar, though when eating saltwater catfish, you’ll notice that this type of fish happens to pack a saltier, fishy flavor, which isn’t entirely terrible.

Saltwater Catfish Species

Saltwater catfish tend to be much smaller than other species of catfish. There are several species of saltwater catfish, though the two species that are extremely common include:

  • Gafftop Catfish
  • Hardhead Catfish

Gafftop Catfish

Gafftop, Sail catfish, Sailcats, Sailtop, and Gafftopsail catfish are all names given to this particular species of catfish that are found along the Atlantic coast, with a habitat that clashes with hardhead catfish stretching south towards the Caribbean sea. Its unique features are what separates it from many species, boasting a long deep forked tail and dorsal spine though barely reaching the length of 40cm. The dorsal spines are pretty lethal and can cause severe injuries when touched, with the nasty sting of this Sailtop catfish known to be torturous.

Gafftop catfish can be found in the same waters as hardhead catfish, though the former prefer to enter shallow waters with muddy or sandy surfaces, offering shelter from bigger predators such as mangroves and lagoons.

Hardhead Catfish

The Hardhead catfish is a much larger fish and can be found along the eastern coastline of the United States and Canada, from the northwest Atlantic to the Gulf of Mexico.

Hardhead is the term given to this type of catfish due to its complex bone structure, where a bony plate runs from the dorsal fin finishing between its eyes.

Hardhead catfish prefer to reside near-shore waterways near river mouths and brackish estuaries or brackish waters with muddy, sandy surfaces, and during the winter, they migrate to deeper water with little to no access to fresh water.

These hardhead catfish possess four robust spikes under the jaw that can cause serious harm when attempting to catch them, which is why it’s imperative to wear gloves, even when casting a fishing line.

So Can You Eat Saltwater Catfish?

Saltwater catfish tend to attack with venom when picked up, so while they’re great for deep-frying and dipping in tartar sauce, it’s best to wear the appropriate protection when cleaning them and avoiding the poisonous areas, eliminating those sections, leaving you with fresh fish meat that is satiating and extremely delectable.


Is the Saltwater Catfish Poisonous?

The answer to whether saltwater catfish is poisonous is yes, absolutely. Moreover, getting stung by a saltwater catfish is no joke. They’re venomous and can lead to serious infections.

Which Catfish are Edible?

The most commonly eaten catfish species in the US are the channel catfish and the blue catfish, both of which are widely farmed.

Is Catfish Poisonous to Eat?

While some catfish are deemed poisonous, they are still edible. Catfish venom glands are found alongside sharp, bony spines on the edges of the dorsal fins and pectoral fins. Have these removed, and the rest of the catfish is perfectly fine to eat.