You sure can eat a sailfish, but should you? Sailfish are most often caught for sport and not for food. In the United States, federal regulation is catch-and-release only. This rule makes eating one a little tricky unless you have a special permit.
Outside of the States, it is still commonplace to eat sailfish. The high volume of commercial fishing is why this species is dwindling in parts of the world.
This article will explain the dos and don’ts of catching and consuming sailfish. Plus, a few tips and tricks on cooking them if you get the chance.
What is a Sailfish?
A sailfish is a species of billfish known for its distinctive sail-like dorsal fin, which can be raised or lowered. Sailfish are large, highly migratory fish found in warmer sections of the oceans, including the Indian and Atlantic Oceans. They are known for their fantastic speed and agility in the water.
Sailfish have a sleek, elongated body with a long bill and a crescent-shaped tail. They can reach impressive sizes, with adult sailfish typically measuring between 6 and 10 feet in length and weighing up to 200 pounds.
Sailfish are characterized by their vibrant colors, including a dark blue or blackish-blue back, silvery sides, and a large dorsal fin extending along much of their body.
Sailfish are popular targets for sport fishing due to their acrobatic displays and their ability to reach high speeds. They are known for their aerial leaps, tail-walking, and slashing movements with their bills. Sailfish primarily feed on smaller fish and squid, using their bills to slash and stun their prey before consuming it.
Due to their beauty, speed, and challenging nature as game fish, sailfish are highly valued in recreational fishing.
Fun facts about sailfish:
- They are one of the fastest fish in the ocean, traveling up to 70mph.
- They can live up to fifteen years.
- They use their “sword” bill to slash or tap at schools of fish to disorient their prospective meal.
- They raise their sail when they are in pursuit of prey.
- They can grow to be eleven feet long and two hundred and twenty pounds.
Are Sailfish the Same as Swordfish?
No, sailfish and swordfish are different species of fish. They belong to different families and have distinct characteristics.
A sailfish often gets confused with a swordfish because of their similar appearance. This misunderstanding is also why they are called billfish in certain fishing communities.
Is Catching Sailfish Legal?
The Billfish Conservation Act protects sailfish and many other similar species in the United States. Federal regulations prohibit removing them from the water before release. You can get the proper licensing to harvest billfish, but only if you accurately report your catches to regulatory agencies.
Obviously, this doesn’t stop all anglers from ignoring the rules that protect the fish. Taking a photo with your catch of the day is pretty standard when it comes to fishing. However, if the picture catches the eye of an authority figure, it can mean a fine of $500 or more.
Many people don’t realize how much stress the sailfish experiences when removed from the water. When a fish that size is still enough for a picture, that usually means its survival rate is bleak. Some fishermen justify taking sailfish out of the water by claiming revival is a possibility. Even if that’s true, I doubt that makes the fish feel any better.
Where Can I Catch a Sailfish?
According to several websites with expertise in fishing, these ten spots are your best bet at catching a sailfish. You won’t be able to fish for your dinner in Florida, but in most other locations, you can:
- Florida Keys
- South Florida
- Costa Rica
- Isla Mujeres, Mexico
- Mozambique, Africa
- Exmouth, Australia
- Kuala Rompin, Malaysia
- Phuket, Thailand
It’s also a great excuse to take a vacation!
What Does Sailfish Taste Like?
The taste of sailfish is often described as similar to that of other billfish species like marlin and swordfish.
It has a slightly sweet and meaty flavor, with a moderate oil content that helps keep the flesh moist and tender when cooked.
How Do I Cook Sailfish?
When it comes to cooking sailfish, it is often prepared in ways similar to other large game fish. It can be grilled, broiled, baked, or pan-seared. Some people also enjoy sailfish in raw preparations such as ceviche or sushi.
In areas like Zihuatanejo, Mexico, sailfish are common in fish tacos or smoked fish dip.
The fishy flavor of sailfish ranges from mild to heavy, so most recipes recommend letting the fish soak in brine, milk, or butter. Soaking your fish also helps infuse some flavor into your fish! Don’t be afraid of spices when it comes to sailfish.
Popular ways to prepare sailfish:
- Grill it: Cut a few large filets, soak them in your favorite brine, and grill to perfection.
- Fry it: Soak your fish in butter or milk, then fry it until the meat is at your desired consistency.
- Bake it: You can’t go wrong with lemon, butter, and baked fish.
- Kababs: Cut your sailfish into bite-sized pieces and skewer them with your favorite veggies.
- Stir-fry: Cut thin strips of sailfish and add them to your best stir-fry recipe.
- Smoke it: Put that brine to work, then smoke your sailfish for a couple of hours.
Is Sailfish Healthy For You?
Most fish and shellfish contain healthy nutrients like protein and omega-3 fatty acids. These same fish and shellfish also contain mercury traces, which has always been a highly debated topic.
You would need to consume a great deal of fish that’s high in mercury to be in real danger, but it’s still good to know what you’re putting in your body.
The FDA tells us not to eat shark, swordfish, king mackerel, and tilefish due to high mercury levels. While the sailfish isn’t explicitly named, there is plenty of debate about how healthy it is.
Without a doubt, it’s much safer than eating a blowfish, so no need to worry about imminent death. Like with any food, moderation is key.