August 16, 2013
Have You Heard the One About the Vegetarian Cobia?
By Bob Marshall
When I first saw the headline that some researchers had turned cobia into vegans, I was shocked. Actually, I was depressed. It was like losing a best friend.
The cobia, after all, is arguably the most popular game fish along the Cajun Coast, because if there is one quality we admire more in a fish than its ability to thrill at the table, it’s that fish’s prowess as a fighter in the water.
And cobia, the filet mignon of the marine world, is also a raging bull in the water - a hook-bending, drag-burning, arm-spraining mauler. Believe me, if it didn’t eat so good, we wouldn’t waste our time. (It’s in our DNA).
So when I discovered researchers had worked out a way to get mariculture-raised cobia to eat non-meat food, horrible questions sprang to mind: Would that change of diet tame the cobia’s eat-like-it’s-my-last-meal character? Would I be reduced to throwing kale patterns to a nibbler in blue water?
But the horror slowly turned to happiness. Here’s why.
Farm raising of fish, especially large marine species, will continue to be a going business because it’s one of the few ways the planet has to meet the protein needs of its expanding population. The reduction of arable land due to climate change is encouraging countries like China to turn ever more to the oceans.
Under carefully regulated policies, that can be a good thing for our available wild fish, because we know the oceans’ wild stocks can’t meet the demand.
But one growing problem with operations that raise predator species like cobia has been their impact on other wild species. In this case, fish farmers have depended on food supplies made from menhaden and other forage fish, creating problems for those species. And depressing those populations will have a ripple effect through entire ecosystems, hurting many wild species.
So the news that some researchers in Maryland have produced a fish food from algae and vegetable matter that farm-raised cobia will eat is good news.
And it means I don’t have to worry about throwing carrot baits to pacifist cobia along the barrier islands.