Cobia: Out of the Ocean, Into the Pen

By Joseph Zaleski & Jeffrey Lamoureux

Many of the world’s most popular fish species are being overfished to satisfy growing demand for seafood. For researchers, the challenge is to find species that can be sustainably harvested with minimal damage to the world’s ecosystems. The cobia, Rachycentron canadum, is a promising species.

Cobia produce flavorful, healthy filets. (Image credit: Florida Sport Fishing)

Cobia is found throughout the world’s tropical and subtropical waters. Dark brown with white stripes along the sides of their long, spindle-shaped bodies, they can grow to be six feet long and live for 15 years. Because of their size they are occasionally mistaken for sharks, and are often called “crabeaters” because the bulk of their diet is crustaceans and other invertebrates.

Cobia is flavorful and is used regularly in sashimi, ceviche, and grilled dishes throughout Asia and the Americas. It is a good, low-fat source of protein and several vitamins and minerals. Cobia is not a household name, however, because the fish are difficult to produce on a large scale. Cobia is generally solitary and stays near the ocean surface, preferring the shade of objects like buoys, piers, and platforms. This makes them a great catch for recreational fishers, but unviable for commercial fishermen.

But cobia has the potential to thrive in controlled aquacultures, and researchers are working to make their production economically and environmentally sustainable. Cobia grow quickly: males mature in one to two years, females in two to three. Additionally, they spawn multiple times from early summer to early fall, and females can have up to 1.9 million eggs. Because of the high quality of their flesh, the cobia is considered one of the most important candidates for aquaculture production.

Raising cobia in aquaculture has become very popular in China, Taiwan, and Vietnam, where farmers sell the top-quality filets for a high price on the international market. As with all concentrated farming operations, intensive aquaculture does have the potential to damage surrounding ecosystems. Conservation-minded fish farming, however, is gaining traction in countries around the world. Organizations like the Aquaculture Stewardship Council, for example, provide fish farmers with an internationally recognized certification for environmentally responsible aquaculture; and cobia farmers in South Asia are proving the potential to produce flavorful, healthy seafood with minimal impact on the surrounding ecosystem. These successes have prompted some Caribbean nations to explore developing cobia aquacultures of their own.

As sustainable aquaculture continues to expand, and people’s appetites for quality seafood continue to grow, cobia may yet become a more widely recognized dinner option.

Have you ever caught and cooked a cobia? Have you ever visited an aquaculture pen?

To read more about indigenous fruits and vegetables, check out: Eru: Growing Popularity of Cameroon’s Nutritious Wild Vine, Star Apple: Prized Fruit and Timber, Shalakh Apricot: Protecting a Species’ Diversity, and a Local Culture

Joseph Zaleski and Jeffrey Lamoureux are research interns with the Nourishing the Planet project. 

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