Jeremy Alford

Silverfin tough to catch and clean

by Jeremy Alford

If you’re a recreational angler who’s hoping to land a batch of silverfin, the widely abundant fish being rebranded by public and private interests, just know that you’ll have to go beyond the simple hook-and-line approach that fools most other species worth eating. In fact, you’d probably have better luck with a boat, which is actually among the fishing methods being considered by the Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries Commission for the recreational market.

Silver and bighead carp — the common name for the fish state officials are now calling silverfin — can jump several feet out of the water, landing in a boat or even a net, which is likewise being considered by the commission as a potential fishing method. But silverfin are also a biological pest; they’re an invasive species that were introduced to Louisiana decades ago and are now competing for food with native fish like bass and catfish.

Several private companies are currently exploring ways to market silverfin and prepackaged fish cakes, gumbo and imitation crabmeat stuffing should soon appear on the shelves of Rouse’s Supermarkets. However, recreational anglers want a piece of the action, too, especially since silverfin can grow to be up to 50 pounds. “You can get them bow-fishing. That’s a lot of fun,” says Glenn Thomas, LSU Sea Grant’s marine extension director, referring to the practice of using a bow to shoot an arrow that’s been strung with fishing line in order to reel in a fish.

At their Jan. 7 meeting, the Wildlife and Fisheries Commission adopted a proposed rule that allows recreational anglers to catch silverfin using boats, dip nets, spears and snagging methods. The fish do not have a size or catch limit. That rule is temporary for 120 days of public input and then becomes permanent.

The reason the commission didn’t include traditional hook-and-line methods is because it’s virtually impossible to catch silverfin that way. Silverfin feed primarily on plankton, which is also the main diet for shad, bigmouth buffalo and paddlefish, as well as the larval stages of catfish, bass and other freshwater species. Plankton are tiny organisms that usually float in groups near the top of water bodies.

When silverfin are caught, anglers should bleed the fish immediately by cutting off its tail while it’s still alive and then placing it under ice to avoid any graying and aftertaste. This process makes the meat significantly tenderer, Thomas says. Now that you’ve landed a mess of silverfin, you will have to clean them, which isn’t easy due to the bone structure of the fish. “But it can be done,” says Thomas. “It’s a long process and well worth it.”

A video series produced by the U.S. Geological Survey and LSU AgCenter on how to clean the fish properly can be found here (the introductory video is posted below). One method involves cooking silverfin with their bones and taking them out before eating, while another method involves steaming the fish and then removing the bones.

Silverfin flesh is moist, white, flaky and mild — provided it is properly handled — and larger silverfin can yield generous, meaty fillets. On top of that, LDWF Inland Fisheries Administrator Gary Tilyou says silverfin are also rich in omega 3, a heart-healthy nutrient. “Once people taste the fish for themselves they will soon realize that silverfin belongs on the table,” he says.