Tarpon is a popular game fish. Its general sea behavior, size, and agility have always been challenging for anglers. Since it is endemic in harsher coastal environments, it is always an achievement to catch one. However, as a fish considered as ‘caught in the wild’, it would be valid to ask if you can eat tarpon.
The easy answer to that question is yes. So, in this post, we expand the question into other information which you must know before you eat tarpon, so, read on.
What is tarpon fish?
Before asking can you eat tarpon, we must first know what a tarpon fish is. Scientifically, tarpons belong to the genus Megalops. Strikingly, there are only two species of tarpons: the Atlantic tarpon and the Pacific tarpon. This game fish is a prolific layer. Hence, tarpon fishes breed in warm, isolated sea beds, laying around 12 million eggs at once.
They are distinct for their shiny, silver scales. These majestic scales cover all the parts of their body, giving them the name of silver king. They also sport a broad mouth, large eyes, and prominent lower jaws. They are mostly identifiable for their soft rays and blue-gray-green backs.
Tarpon diet is also interesting. Young tarpons feed on smaller fishes, crabs, insects, as well as grass shrimps. When they reach adulthood, tarpons become exclusively carnivorous, feeding on midwater prey. They exhibit a peculiar eating pattern at this phase as they only eat in the night.
You can see more: Can You Eat Northern Pike?
Where are tarpons found?
Although there are only two species of tarpon fish, tarpons are found in almost all coastal regions around the world. Hence, you can eat Atlantic tarpon if you are in the US, Mexico, Latin America and the Caribbean. For the African, Pacific and Asian coasts, you can eat the Pacific tarpons.
As to local habitats, you can catch tarpons from shallow freshwater or in lakes and rivers. They are also found in coastal salt waters, estuaries, open marine waters and around coral reefs. See? You can eat tarpons not just because they are edible but also because finding them almost everywhere is easy.
You can see more: Can You Eat Starfish And Is It Safe?
Interesting facts about tarpon
Yes, you can eat tarpon but it is more than that when it comes to this fish. There are other interesting facts about this fish that you should know of. As such, here are some fast facts about this prized and favorite game fish.
- According to fossil records, tarpons are a prehistoric fish breed.
- They are also known as the silver king because of their prominent shiny, silver appearance.
- In Florida, tarpons are one of their prized game fish. This is because of their standout strength, fighting ability and stamina.
- They are very adaptive. They can gulp air from the water surface in environments with low quality oxygen.
- Tarpons can only be recreationally fished in most US states. For trophy purposes, each tarpon can cost $50 per tag at minimum.
- Among tarpon anglers, they fish tarpons just for catch and release since they are not considered as food worthy fish.
- Anglers use tarpon meat as bait for tarpons themselves, and other big fishes.
- Tarpons lay an average of 12million eggs at once.
- Due to overfishing and unregulated catching, the current conservation status of tarpons is vulnerable.
- The largest number of tarpon anglers live in Bermuda, Nova Scotia, and Southern Argentina.
- Tarpons are the favorite preys of crocodiles.
Size of tarpon
We mentioned that tarpons are relatively big fishes. They can grow to up to 8ft long and could weigh in between 60-300lbs. This size is one of the primary reasons as to why tarpons are hard to catch, let alone prepare for a dish if you intend to eat one.
Tarpon life span
Perhaps, the main reason as to why tarpons are very large would be the fact that their maximum age reaches to an average of over 50 years. Female tarpons live for 43 years while male tarpons live to up to 55 years. The oldest tarpon raised in captivity that was over 63 years in age before it died.
Are tarpons hard to catch?
One of the reasons as to why tarpons are not usually endorsed as ‘you can eat’ fish is because they are hard to catch. Tarpons are very picky when it comes to baits and they also have the ability to fight hard because of their weight, size, and stamina. As such, anglers experience loose lines, shaken up boats, and damaged gears when game fishing tarpons.
Well, you can also catch tarpons offshore. However, it is still challenging, again given their size and their endurance. Thus, while you can eat tarpon, you must really consider the painstaking ways of catching one.
Is tarpon edible?
Yes. You can eat tarpon because it is edible. However, it does not appeal to most people because of its pungent smell, very fishy taste and it is very bony. Aside from that, it is very agile in water and it is hard to catch.
It usually takes hours before you can catch a tarpon or two and most people really think that it is not worth the time to catch one for food. Other than that, the preparation is also tedious so even anglers would put the tarpon fish back to the water if they catch one.
Can you eat tarpon raw?
Yes, you can eat tarpon raw but with some considerations. Tarpon is not something that you would usually see in sushi bar menus and for a good reason. This fish thrives in both freshwater and salty water. If you intend to try eating tarpon fish raw, anglers recommend those caught from saltwater.
The reason behind the saltwater tarpon is that the salt content kills the bacteria and parasites attached in the fish’s skin. It is also suggested that the freshly caught tarpon be frozen for at least a day before preparing it for raw eating.
Is it safe to eat tarpon?
Asking if it is safe to eat tarpon is basically another way of asking if you can eat tarpon, in a more specific and meticulous way. Well, the answer is yes and the safest way to eat it is by poaching it or cooking it at a consistent 145F temperature.
Cooking through poaching is beneficial in killing off the parasites that are the common causes of foodborne diseases. Poaching is also the most common method used in cooking fishes caught in the wild.
What does a tarpon fish taste like?
Unlike other fishes caught for game or from ‘the wild’, you would find that tarpons do not taste that bad. The general comment is that it is has a pungent smell and tastes very fishy. It should be known, however, that like the koi fish, the taste of tarpon meat depends on the environment where it thrives.
This means that if you experience a non-flaky, fishy tasting or sour tarpon meat, it must have come from polluted water or generally a stagnant one.
How do you cook a tarpon fish?
We have already mentioned that you can eat tarpon and the best way to cook it is through poaching. But it is not limited to that. You can actually make other recipes from the fish if you have the time and expertise to prepare it. As an example, here is how you could make fish cakes out of tarpon fish meat.
- 2 quarts chicken broth
- 4lbs skinned tarpon fillet
- Finely chopped onions
- Finely chopped bell peppers
- 3lbs mashed potatoes
- 4 egg whites
- 2tbsp Dijon mustard
- 1/4tsp cayenne
- 2tbsp paprika
- 1 ½ tbsp garlic powder
- Olive oil
- Get a food processor and grind the tarpon fillets. Grind thoroughly until you get small chunks and not paste like consistency from the tarpon meat. Set aside in a bowl.
- In a separate bowl, mix the chopped onions, bell peppers, mashed potatoes, egg whites, mustard, cayenne pepper, paprika, and garlic powder.
- Mix the ingredients thoroughly and then add the tarpon meat chunks in the bowl.
- Next, dust the counter with flour, scoop from the mixture and roll it into a bowl. For the final touch, flatten the fish ball slightly. Make as much as you can from the mixture.
- Now, prepare the frying pan. Heat the olive oil on medium heat. Arrange the fish cakes in the pan. Fry until the edges are crispy. Flip the fish cakes after three minutes.
- Drain the cooked fish cakes and serve.
While we have already established that you can eat tarpon, it is more popular as a game fish than one for consumption. Aside from really being hard to catch, it is also very bony, making it hard to prepare and consume. Moreso, not everyone loves its very fishy taste and pungent smell.
Nonetheless, if you are up to some cooking challenge and you are considering tarpon, you can always do so. Just do not compare it into a salmon or tuna experience because you would not get it. But all things considered, yes, you can eat tarpon.