It’s amazing how many sport fish fly under the radar when it comes to being a great meal. The peacock bass is one of those fish.
Eating peacock bass can be up for debate, especially in southern Florida, where many anglers believe they should be released to preserve their population, but whatever side of that debate you may be on, the truth is that yes, you can eat peacock bass.
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What are Peacock Bass?
Peacock bass are tropical freshwater fish in the cichlid family, and despite sharing a common name, and some similarities, they are not related to other bass species like the largemouth bass.
Native to some South American river basins like the Amazon river, peacock bass are considered a major food source in many regions. Because of that, these fish are often farmed, and that farming has led to escaped fish being introduced into non-native bodies of water throughout South America. Human release has also led to established populations in warmer areas of North America and Asia.
In most areas where they’re not native, peacock bass are considered an invasive species, their aggressive feeding habits sometimes devastating the populations of smaller fish they are feeding on.
In Florida, however, this was the intent. In 1984, peacock bass were introduced to southern Florida to help combat other, smaller invasive fish species, like tilapia and oscars. Their introduction also resulted in an incredible new sport fishery throughout Florida canals. While the speckled peacock hasn’t fared well in its new waters, the butterfly peacock has, and it’s now revered by local fishermen who would debate the idea of keeping any fish, hoping to protect their population. The conservation mindset is a great one, but that doesn’t mean, when done within the regulations, that you can’t keep a peacock bass or two for the table.
Are Peacock Bass Safe to Eat?
Yes. In areas with low mercury, a peacock bass is not only safe to eat but also provides the many health benefits other fish do.
Peacock bass are rich in Omega-3 fatty acids, manganese, potassium, sodium, and phosphorus – all minerals and acids that are essential in promoting good health from heart and brain function to strong bones and teeth. A single peacock bass can provide a significant portion of a person's daily intake of vitamins and minerals.
As mentioned earlier, the only possible downside to eating peacock bass would be the amount of mercury. Mercury does not naturally occur in fish but instead is a byproduct of the body of water they live in. While mercury in the water can be absorbed through a peacock bass’ gills, most of the mercury occurs from eating other fish that contain it. It’s unlikely you’ll ever find a fish that doesn’t contain some mercury, but it’s best to avoid taking peacock bass from bodies of water that are known to have higher levels of mercury.
Do Peacock Bass Taste Good?
There’s a myth among those who haven’t eaten peacock bass that they just don’t taste good, but anyone who’s tried knows that this simply isn’t the case. Peacock bass are delicious.
A peacock bass’ flesh is firm yet flaky, both holding up well to cooking and easily falling apart in your mouth. Having very little oil, these fish are mild and slightly sweet, often being compared to the popular tilapia and favored by many because of their less ‘fishy’ taste. You get the taste of fish without it being overpowering. Peacock bass also have very little bones, and when filleted properly, they’re a pleasure to eat.
It’s a little surprising that more people haven't caught onto eating peacock bass, especially considering that in many areas where they’re native, they’re considered a viable food source.
Yes, it is important to understand and respect conservation practices, but when done with that respect and within area regulations, there’s nothing wrong with taking a peacock bass home for the table. If you haven’t tried it yet, we highly recommend you do. You won’t be disappointed.
Have you eaten peacock bass before? Do you plan on trying it? We’d love to hear from you! Leave us a comment and let us know your thoughts.