The necessities of survival, both short-term and long-term, might force you to do things that you would otherwise never consider doing, and eat things that you would otherwise never consider eating.
We are fortunate, then, that there are all kinds of animals in the wild that are truly edible and even quite nutritious even if we would not consider making them a part of our usual everyday menu.
In particular, there are many fish both freshwater and saltwater that are not normally considered good eating, but could be just the thing during a survival scenario.
How about bonefish? Can you eat bonefish to survive?
Yes, bonefish are generally safe to eat and nutritious, though challenging to catch and prepare. As with all plankton-eating fish, clupeotoxin poisoning is also a risk.
You’ll generally need to head into tropical waters if you want to catch bonefish, and even if you know where to find them there is no guarantee that you can catch them.
These fish are legendary for their elusiveness and reluctance to strike bait.
However, it certainly is possible to catch them as they are popular game fish since they tend to put up a fight and you can, of course, eat them.
Keep reading to learn more about eating bonefish in a survival situation.
Where Do Bonefish Live?
The term bonefish refers to the normative species of the bonefish family, Albulidae, and the specific species Albula vulpes.
The family is distributed between both Atlantic and Pacific oceans, but the bonefish that most people refer to in North America is the Atlantic species that is commonly found in the tropical waters of the Caribbean, namely around the coast of Florida, Puerto Rico and the Bahamas.
These thin, sleek, silver fish inhabit mud flats, sand flats and other inshore areas hunting for worms, crustaceans, mollusks and fish eggs and they regularly follow other marine animals to scoop up shrimp and crabs that they miss. They also prey on other small fish like minnows.
Difficult to locate and even harder to catch, you’ll have to be well prepared, highly skilled and patient if you want to catch bonefish anywhere that they live.
Caution: Bonefish May Be Contaminated with Deadly Clupeotoxin
The most concerning thing about eating bonefish is that they might be contaminated with extremely dangerous clupeotoxin.
This toxin occurs in various fish species that feed on plankton, including anchovies, herring, sardines and tarpons along with bonefish here.
Most worryingly, the toxin present and concentrated in affected fishes’ organs is odorless, tasteless, and not destroyed or degraded by cooking, giving no sign whatsoever of its presence in a fish that otherwise appears healthy.
Scientists are not even entirely sure of the actual identity of the toxin, only that it occurs in clupeoid fishes, hence the name.
Here’s what you really need to know: after ingesting the poison, nausea, diarrhea, vomiting, severe abdominal cramps and pain, headache, dizziness, rapid breathing and elevated heart rate typically begin within a half hour to 60 minutes.
This is usually followed by a precipitous drop in blood pressure and shortly after that, death.
The death rate of poisoning is approximately 50%, shockingly high, and only immediate admittance to higher level medical care for sustained life support is effective in combating the effects of the poison.
In this way, eating bonefish might be a roll of the dice, even though such poisonings are rare.
They do occur more often in the subject species when they are caught during the warmer late spring and summer months, so keep that in mind if you are fishing for bonefish!
Bonefish Nutritional Info
Solid nutritional information for bonefish as a species is tough to come by, but we can get an informed opinion by comparing them to other, similar fish.
Like pretty much all fish, bonefish generally make for healthy, lean eating with plenty of protein and only a little bit of fat content.
They contain a good assortment of vitamins and minerals, namely the B complex vitamins, iron, phosphorus, magnesium and of course the ever important omega-3 fatty acids.
A meal of bonefish is going to provide you with plenty of calories for both short and long-term sustained energy along with the micronutrients that your body needs to heal and recuperate after damage or exertion.
This is especially important in a survival situation because a lack of any given vitamin or mineral required by your body will lead to malnutrition which will eventually turn into a showstopper.
It is easy to only worry about calories when you are thinking short-term because calories equal fuel, but savvy survivors who are ready for the long haul will work hard to provide everything that their body needs, not just calories.
What Do Bonefish Taste Like?
Bonefish taste pretty good so long as they are prepared properly, and that’s the big rub with them: They are not easy to prepare properly!
Bonefish are white and flaky, firm and only a little oily. Preparing by splitting and then steaming, grilling or roasting is popular throughout the Caribbean as is using them in poke or ceviche elsewhere.
So long as you know what you are doing and pay attention, you should have wind up with a pretty tasty cut of fish.
If you don’t know what you are doing and still manage to clean the fish properly, it might not be particularly appetizing but it will still make for a wholesome meal.
Is it Safe to Eat Raw Bonefish?
No. Although raw fish sometimes gets a pass in the eyes of people who are acclimatized to eating sushi and similar dishes, eating raw meat, including raw fish, is never a good idea, especially if it is wild-caught.
Raw fish is far more likely to contain dangerous and infectious germs or parasites that can absolutely ruin your day.
From germs like salmonella they can give you food poisoning to some truly hideous roundworms that can burrow through your intestines before squirming around in your abdominal cavity chewing on you, all sorts of nightmarish outcomes are possible if you want to take a chance on eating raw bonefish.
If you want to prevent this dreadful fate, all you need to do is take the time to properly clean and prepare your bonefish before thoroughly cooking it to an internal temperature of at least 165° F (73° C).
Doing so will ensure that pretty much all harmful bacteria, viruses and parasites perish and your fish will be safe to eat. As a reminder: clupeotoxin, if present, is not destroyed or degraded by cooking!
Is it Safe to Eat Bonefish Scales?
Yes, but the scales are not very good. If you insist on eating them or just don’t want to scale the fish, take the time to roast them until they are crispy and brittle as this will make them easier to eat.
Can You Eat Bonefish Eggs?
Yes, but chances are good you’ll never find them because these fish travel out to sea in order to spawn.
If you do somehow manage to come into possession of bonefish eggs, make sure you cook them gently in order to prepare them just like you would with the fish itself.
Is it Safe to Eat Bonefish… Bones?
Generally not. The bones of the bonefish are, as expected, problematic. They can easily cause you to choke or if you do manage to consume them they can perforate your intestines or else become stuck in your digestive tract.
A far better and safer solution is to simply eat around the bones after you have prepared your fish or remove the bones and then simmer or boil them in water to make a nutritious stock out of them or the basis of a good soup by leaching the nutrients out of the bone marrow inside.
How About Bonefish Organs?
Do not eat bonefish organs! In most fish, most of the organs can be eaten safely even if they aren’t very appetizing.
In bonefish, as mentioned above, the organs are going to be where the highest concentrations of the deadly clupeotoxin are found if they are present in the tissues of the fish.
If you’re going to eat bonefish, make it a point to clean the fish with exacting and precise care and always discard the organs!
Tom Marlowe practically grew up with a gun in his hand, and has held all kinds of jobs in the gun industry: range safety, sales, instruction and consulting, Tom has the experience to help civilian shooters figure out what will work best for them.