Can you Eat Saltwater Catfish? Is It Any Good?

Can You Eat Saltwater Catfish?

Do you get excited when you see Catfish on a seafood restaurant menu?

I know I do. You can be sure that the Catfish you find at a local seafood house was caught in freshwater, not saltwater. But can you eat Saltwater Catfish? And does it taste good?

Saltwater Catfish are edible. They are not nearly as enjoyable of a meal as their freshwater counterparts, but that doesn’t mean you can enjoy a filet when cooked correctly.

In this post, I will share my opinion on eating saltwater catfish, whether they taste good or not, and the best recipe I have come up with for cooking this lesser-known catfish.

First Things First: Gafftop vs. Hardhead Catfish

It is crucial to distinguish the two common types of Saltwater Catfish. There is a significant difference in taste between Gafftop and Hardhead Catfish. Gafftop is the ones worth bringing home, while hardhead catfish are considered “trash fish” and should be released right away before hitting the deck.

The two types of saltwater catfish are Gafftop and Hardhead catfish. I have tried both, but I do not recommend eating hardhead catfish. I am referring to the Gafftop catfish below when laying out my preferred recipe.

Do Saltwater Catfish Taste Good?

In my opinion, no. I have eaten saltwater catfish (Gafftop) a handful of times and brought both onboard my boat and back to the dinner table. The Gafftop was undoubtedly much better than the Hardhead catfish, but the taste of saltwater catfish does not stand up to freshwater Catfish.

The first time I had Gafftop catfish, I battered it on my go-to fish fry batter, House Autry, with a heavy dose of Old Bay. The Old Bay helped add the needed flavor, but the texture of tough meat was still there.

The second time I ate saltwater, Catfish (Gafftop) was grilled. I tried to go a different route and remove the skin, which can be tricky but doable. The problem with grilling saltwater catfish is that the meat wants to fall off the bone. It’s hard to keep it on long enough to get a nice char without falling through the grates.

So if you are thinking about eating saltwater catfish, be aware of the texture and tough nature of the meat. The taste is not as fresh as freshwater Catfish, but you can make a meal with the right recipe.

The Best Recipe For Saltwater Catfish

fried saltwater catfish recipe

After cooking saltwater catfish a couple of different ways, I have found the best recipe is to blacken it. The key to this recipe is to use fresh herbs and spices. Dried just won’t cut it.

What You’ll Need:

-4 (6-8 oz) saltwater catfish fillets

-2 tablespoons olive oil

-1 tablespoon paprika

-2 teaspoons garlic powder

-1 teaspoon onion powder

-1 teaspoon cumin

-1 teaspoon dried oregano

-1/2 teaspoon salt

-1/4 teaspoon black pepper

-Lemon wedges (for serving)


1. Preheat the skillet to medium-high heat, about 375-400 degrees F.

2. Whisk together olive oil, paprika, garlic powder, onion powder, cumin, oregano, salt, and pepper in a small bowl.

3. Rub spice mixture all over catfish fillets.

4. Grill for 6-8 minutes per side or until fish is cooked.

5. Serve with lemon wedges and tartar sauce!

Are Saltwater Catfish Poisonous?

Saltwater Catfish is not poisonous when digested. However, they contain a copious amount of bacteria on their barbs that can be dangerous and lead to infection when stung by one. Saltwater Catfish have barbs that will transfer the bacteria when they sting. It is essential to know this when you catch one and not to let yourself get stung by following best practices for handling fish.

Saltwater Catfish vs. Freshwater Catfish

My wife is from Charlotte, NC, and to her, Catfish is at the top of her list regarding seafood. I grew up on the coast, eating nothing but saltwater fish, blue crabs, shrimp, etc. I never got excited about Catfish and always thought it was funny how much she loved Catfish.

I have gained an appreciation for fried Catfish over the years, but I still consider freshwater Catfish a second or third-tier dinner fare. Let’s talk about whether it is worth it to eat saltwater catfish.

The Gafftop Catfish is worthy of a meal, and I think it is worth keeping when you have otherwise come up empty on a day of fishing. But, when I have a cooler full of Red Drum and Speckled Trout, I am throwing back any saltwater catfish before their slime coat wreaks havoc on prized catches.

Common Questions Related to Saltwater Catfish

What Catfish can live in saltwater?

The two saltwater catfish species are “Gafftop Catfish” and “Hardhead Catfish.”

Can you Eat Saltwater Catfish?

Yes, saltwater catfish can be eaten. However, they are not as popular as freshwater Catfish due to their tough meat and pungent taste.

Do saltwater catfish have poisonous barbs?

No, saltwater catfish are not poisonous. However, their barbs can transfer bacteria that can cause infection and be quite painful as the sting packs a punch.

How big can saltwater catfish get?

The average size of a saltwater catfish is between 24 and 36 inches long. However, they can grow up to 6 feet long.

What do saltwater catfish eat?

Saltwater catfish are opportunistic feeders and eat just about anything they can fit in their mouths. I have found similar bait inside of Gafftop catfish compared to red drum. Their diet is quite similar, which is a good sign when considering whether or not a fish will taste good.

Wrapping Up

Saltwater Catfish (Hardhead)

For good reasons, you can eat saltwater catfish, but they are not as popular as freshwater. These fish are often caught inshore fishing for redfish and speckled trout, but I have also landed quite a few past the inlet. The Gafftop Catfish is the only species of catfish I will keep when fishing in saltwater, as they make for a decent meal. However, their barbs can cause infection, so be careful when handling them.

For more answers to your questions, check out some of my other tips and guides here.

And if you are looking for resources on fishing gear, check out some of the following pages:

Captain Tyler Brady

Captain Tyler Brady

Hi, I'm Captain Tyler Brady, founder of A Fellow Fisherman. Thank you for reading this post and visiting my site. I strive to provide the best information when it comes to fishing, whether it is myself or A Fellow Fisherman that is part of my team. Now stop reading and GO fishing!

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