They can reach up to 13 feet in length, 350 pounds and they are sporting two rows of razor sharp, fang-like teeth. Hearing this description makes gar fish sound like one of our river’s most terrifying monsters! Surprisingly though, these prehistoric creatures are actually quite docile.
That is when they are left alone.
However, for the fisherman who likes a challenge and is wondering if they can eat gar fish, the answer will have them reeling for more!
Generally speaking, you can eat gar fish. It is a healthy meal option that, when consumed in moderation, can bring extreme health benefits. Moreover, unlike salmon, mackerel and sardines, when you eat this lean freshwater fish, you will notice a much more mild flavor paired with a richer and less flaky texture.
However, this fish can be hard to catch and the meat is difficult to harvest due to the structure of its scales. Additionally, the bones are a disturbingly green color and the eggs are poisonous. This deters many people from consuming this fish.
- Top Considerations For Gar Fish Consumption
- How To Properly Prepare Gar Fish To Eat?
- The Trash Fish Of The South
- Final Thoughts
Top Considerations For Gar Fish Consumption
Advantages Of Eating Gar Fish
There Are Great Health Benefits
Gar fish is a slender species that can put up quite a fight in the water. The name translates to ‘spear’ or sea needle. Due to the muscular quality of the flesh of this fish, you may not harvest as much meat, but what you will get is low in fat and calories.
Most importantly, it is high in nutrients.
Humanitas Research Hospital notes that “The garfish is a fish rich in omega 3 fatty acids, allies of cardiovascular health. In this respect the garfish is a good food choice because of the monounsaturated fat. […]
The garfish is also a source of high quality protein, vitamins important for a well functioning metabolism (especially B vitamins and iodine), nutrients good for healthy bones (vitamin D, calcium, phosphorus) and potassium, which by controlling the pressure and the heart rate helps to reduce cardiovascular risk.”
This is also a fish that has an extremely low mercury content. Therefore, it is a safe dish that you can eat more regularly than other varieties.
The Meat Is Mild
While considered a ‘trash fish’, gar is not fishy in flavor. “Their flesh is similar to mackerel, although slightly less oily and a little firmer.” Many connoisseurs of this protein source mention that it can also be compared to the flavor of alligator or lobster with a texture similar to chicken.
This makes for a very versatile main course. Some will fry it up and others will braise the fillets. You can even cook gar fish whole on the grill and eat it off the roasting stick!
Needless to say, it works well with many different flavor combinations and side dishes. Additionally, it also features both dark and light meat, like your Thanksgiving turkey. Thus, expect the same gamey taste with the darker portions.
Disadvantages Of Eating Gar Fish
The Bones Are Blue
While you are perfectly safe eating gar fish, many individuals stray away due to the unique coloring of the bones. They come in a vibrant, and almost florescent, greenish-blue. This leads many to assume that the fish is rotten or may cause some form of illness from consumption.
The unusual shade is due to the presence of Biliverdin — a pigment that arises during the breakdown of blood cells in the body. This is actually the same pigment that is responsible for the greenish blue color that appears when you are badly bruised. It is not the most appetizing color.
Thankfully, it is NOT a sign that the gar fish is bad to eat!
The Gar Fish Has Toxic Components
While the skeletal structure may give the illusion of a toxin, what you really need to watch out for are the eggs. National Geographic notes that “the fish’s eggs are poisonous to humans if ingested. The toxicity of gar eggs serves as a defense mechanism against predators such as crustaceans.”
The likelihood of you consuming these eggs is low. However, if you choose to cook the gar whole without first gutting the fish, they can manage to sneak into your dinner more easily.
Moreover, Texas Parks & Wildlife states that “like all fishes, alligator gar are exposed to contaminants in the waters in which they live, as well as the things they eat. Over time, these contaminants can build up in the fish’s flesh, organs and eggs, and can pose a health risk to humans if consumed. The Texas Department of State Health Services monitors for the presence of harmful contaminants in edible fish tissues and alerts the public through consumption advisories and bans.”
It is important to check for these alerts before engaging in this water sport or cooking what you catch. If you want to eat gar fish, you want to ensure that it is safe. Government organizations like TPW have regular updates on their website to ensure that you can obtain the most up-to-date safety information.
The Scales Provide Amazing Protection From Predators And You
“Gars, including the alligator gar, do not have typical overlapping fish scales. Instead, they have hard, boney interlocking scales, known as ganoid scales, so named because they are covered in ganoine, a crystalline mineral coating. The scales form a protective armor on the fishes that have them.”
In fact, did you know that “the rare ganoid scales of the alligator gar are so hard that humans have used them for breastplate armor, arrowheads, luggage, and even to cover the blades of wooden ploughs”? This interesting fact highlights a hurdle that comes with the preparation of this so-called trash fish.
The extraction of the flesh requires a strong set of tools. This is not usually the case with game fish. Most anglers recommend using tin snips to cut through their tough dermal layer.
In case you didn’t know, this is a tool that is specifically designed to cut through sheet metal. This is one of the many reasons why these fish are thrown back the majority of the time.
The Meat Is High In Cholesterol
While a fantastic source of vitamins and minerals, this aquatic dish also brings a substantial dose of cholesterol. “Experts advise not to exceed 300 mg of cholesterol a day if you are healthy and limited to a maximum of 200 mg a day if you suffer from cardiovascular disease.” Unfortunately, just one 3.5 ounce serving of this fish brings almost a third of this daily dosage.
If you choose to eat gar fish and have issues with your heart health, make sure to limit your consumption.
How To Properly Prepare Gar Fish To Eat?
If you manage to land a small gar fish, the preparation is quite simple. Using a sharp knife and a clean cutting surface, chop off the head and tail of the fish. Then, using your tin snips, cut across through the belly of the fish along the spinal direction of the animal.
Next, gut the fish and thoroughly rinse the interior. This will ensure that there are no eggs or residual parts lingering in the body cavity. Lastly, take a rolling pin and roll in along the spine (from what would be the head to the tail).
This will help to separate the flesh from the bone. Peel out the spine and then you are ready to season and cook as you see fit!
The Trash Fish Of The South
‘Trash fish’ or ‘rough fish’ are the species that anglers deem less desirable than other species. This name does put a bad taste in people’s mouth about the consumption of this fish. One of the many reasons that Gar falls under this category is due to the difficulty that comes with reeling it in and the large amount of effort required to harvest the meat of the gar fish in order to eat it.
In fact, some people in the UK try to just keep their trophy catch as a pet, which is illegal.
Gar Is Difficult To Catch Intentionally
“Rod-and-reel fishing for alligator gar can require climbing a steep learning curve.” Unlike other fish, gar have an extremely bony and narrow mouth, making it hard for the hook to set. This leads almost a quarter of anglers to use a more primitive method — the bow and arrow.
For the larger varieties like “alligator gar, [landing the catch can be a lot easier, with the right equipment and some muscle. This type of gar] has been commercially fished in southern states along with other gar species, and has also been fished and bow-fished. The meat of the alligator gar has been commercially sold for over a dollar a pound locally.”
There are seven species of this freshwater and saltwater gar. All of these fish can be eaten, with Alligator Gar and Longnose Gar being the most popular due to their larger size. The alligator gar average 100 to 160 pounds.
A catch this size will keep fisherman hooked on landing and eating this trophy fish! However, Florida Gar and Shortnose Gar tend to be much smaller, making them also less beneficial to eat.
Gar fish is a safe and healthy food to eat, if you are willing to put in the work. One last thing to note is that these aquatic creatures eat other fish that are both alive and dead. If you believe in the saying “you are what you eat”, you may want to steer clear of this fish.
However, for those who can look past this cannibalistic attribute, the benefits outweigh the drawbacks of this regularly accidental catch of the day!
Heidi is a wife, mother, Newfie owner, writer and Meteorologist. She was born and raised in Texas and has worked in the broadcast industry for over a decade.