Pleco for Lunch

It’s been a while since my last post, and a lot has happened in that time. First of all, I moved again, this time to Tampa, Florida. I went to college in Saint Petersburg, just across the bay from here, so this is somewhat like coming home for me. Yesterday, I had an experience that I felt was worthy of my first blog post in a long, long time.

As you may know, Florida is just packed with invasive animals and plants from all over the world. Some of them are not so bad, living out their lives without doing too much damage. Others, like the pythons, snakeheads, and Brazilian pepper trees either consume or out-compete native species. Yesterday, I was fishing in one of the lakes near my house and while fishing for bait with a net I brought in this marvelous looking non-native fish.

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Meet the sailfin pleco, more precisely the Vermiculated Sailfin Catfish, Pterygoplichthys disjunctivus. It is a close relative of the algea-eating plecos sold for aquarium use, and that is almost certainly how it was introduced to Florida from its native home in South America. They look cute when they are a few inches long, but when they reach their adult size of nearly thirty inches, most people cannot keep them as pets, and someone must have dumped a few in a local river. They survived, bred, and now they are found throughout central and southern Florida. Plecos can be quite damaging because they dig out burrows in the banks of ponds and rivers, filling the water with mud and causing bank erosion. For this reason, when caught they should not be released back into the wild.

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I am not a fan of wasting any animal I kill, so I decided to try eating pleco. I knew they were edible, and the Florida Fish and Wildlife website had a vague reference to “cook them ‘in the shell'”, so I gave it a try.

The first challenge was cleaning the fish. Plecos belong to the family Loricariidae, the armored catfish. As the name suggests, the entire fish is covered in bony plates, which simply cannot be cut through. The underside is relatively soft, though, so I was able to open the body cavity through the belly and clean the fish that way. The armor meant that there was no chance of cutting fillets, though.

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For spices, I mixed sea salt with thyme, rosemary, oregano, and paprika, with which I coated both the inside of the body cavity and the outside of the shell. The whole fish went into a 400 degree oven for about 40 minutes.

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The process of eating pleco is very similar to eating lobster. Most of the meat is in the tail, so I broke the tail off (easy once the meat is cooked, just twist until it separates). Then, using a fork to jackknife the shell open, the meat was pretty easy to remove. The texture was very similar to juicy lobster, but the flavor very like pork, with a mild  fishy taste. Overall, a delicious meal that is totally different from any other fish I have eaten. I will definitely do this again if I ever catch another one. As if that wasn’t enough, my girlfriend also gave it her seal of approval. Not only is it delicious, it is also environmentally sound as a way to control a harmful invasive species which would otherwise damage the habitat that our native animals and plants depend on.

~The Homesteading Hippy

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