Wondering what triggerfish taste like and whether or not they’re safe to eat? We’ve got you covered.
This quick guide will tell you everything you need to know about catching, cooking, and eating different species of triggerfish.
About the Triggerfish
Triggerfish are beautiful, brightly colored fish with interesting patterns and dramatic body markings. They often have larger fins and ornate tails. Part of the Balistidae family, there are 40 different species of triggerfish occupying both tropic and subtropic oceans all over the word.
Triggerfish go by many different names, depending on the locale- Lagoon, Titan, Picasso, Reef, Grey, Christmas Island, Clown, Pinktail, Balistes, Canthi and humuhumunukunukuapuaa (pronounced ‘humu’humu’nuku’nuku’wa:pu’wae in Hawaiian) or HumuHumu for short.
Where to Find Triggerfish
Triggerfish have a few usual hangouts like the Mexican Gulf nearshore and offshore waters, the warmer waters of the Caribbean reefs, and, the larger part of the East Coast.
All of these places are excellent for finding triggerfish, but one of the best places to catch triggerfish is in the waters of Florida. Florida waters are routinely productive for triggerfish.
A Mouth Full of Teeth
A unique characteristic of the triggerfish species is that they have a mouth full of teeth. triggerfish have a reputation for being aggressive at times and under certain circumstances. The fact is that females will vigorously protect their eggs.
Of course, the large Titan Triggerfish may attack an unsuspecting diver if you are not paying attention. Titan Triggerfish are rather large, and that big mouth full of teeth wouldn’t be very welcome. It is difficult to predict if a triggerfish is going to attack because most of the time, they do not.
If you are attacked and bitten by a triggerfish, do not take it lightly. The bite can become infected, and you should have it treated by a medical professional immediately.
Is It Safe to Eat Triggerfish?
Triggerfish, like many other reef fish, are susceptible to ciguatera. Ciguatera is a foodborne illness that causes an array of negative effects ranging from nausea to cardiac and neurological issues.
However, this doesn’t mean that all triggerfish can’t be eaten. The risk of ciguatera can be mostly eliminated by avoiding the consumption of larger fish. The rule of thumb is that you shouldn’t keep and eat any triggerfish that are over 5lbs.
Here’s a link to Florida Health’s information on ciguatera poisoning and prevention. It will help you understand what to look out for and what to do in the event that you suspect a ciguatera-related illness.
Out of the 40 species of triggerfish, only one species, the Clown Triggerfish, is considered to always be unsafe for cosumption.
Other species in the triggerfish family can be eaten and are very popular because of their clean white meat. Like crab meat, the triggerfish has a sweet flavor when cooked.
Fillets from triggerfish are light and thin and work well with any standard fish recipe. The flavor profile of the triggerfish offers the adventures of home cooking or polished chef the opportunity to create new dishes and experiment with different flavor combinations.
Triggerfish Flavor + Preparation & Cooking
Cleaning triggerfish is a little more complicated than other fish because of the tough skin. Take your filet knife stab in and at an angle cut to up and past the head bringing the knife out, flip the fish over, belly side up and do the same stabbing technique.
This initial preparation will get you into that thick, tough skin so you can continue with your cleaning and filleting as you would with any other fish.
Triggerfish is not limited in flavor. The clean white meat that tastes similar to sweet crab meat when cooked will bring a lot of depth and flavor to your fish recipes. The sweetness is somewhat similar to grouper and a slightly more shellfish-y than something like a sheepshead, but unique in its own way.
Fillets from triggerfish are thin and light and so good for baking, grilling or frying. In the past, these gorgeous fish were only for the aquarium but chef’s developed ways to use triggerfish for the dinner table.
A note on the triggerfish, go easy on the ingredients. You don’t want to hide the flavor of the triggerfish by smothering it with too many ingredients.
One of the most convenient and fast cooking methods for triggerfish is to oven roast it. The very simple cooking process can turn into an elegant meal.
Your oven should be heated to 350 degrees. Using pepper, salt, and chopped herbs that go well with fish, like basil, parsley, marjoram, dill or oregano and sprinkle them over the fillets. Spread butter over the bottom of a baking dish, lay the fillets in the center part of the dish, place in oven and roast.
Using your fingers, carefully tap the fish; once it’s firm you know it’s done. Add some oven roasted vegetables, a fresh, crisp salad, and your favorite glass of white wine, and there you have a delicious meal.
How to Catch Triggerfish
Fishing for triggerfish can lead to some frustrations because you may just see more triggerfish than catch them. If you want to have a successful day of fishing, start with the right bait and tackle.
Small hooks are a must. Something around a number four or six is a good starting place. Baitcasting, spinning, and light ocean tackle should be in your plan.
Triggerfish like cut bait of any type, shrimp, strips of squid and they bite at plastic lures. Don’t get excited about the plastic lures because the small mouth of a trigger will rarely get hooked on them. Plastic lures are just an amusement to the triggerfish.
You will need around a 15-pound test line with no leader, tie your hook directly to the line. Once you spot a triggerfish, slowly pull within casting distance and flip some bait near it. Be alert and ready to reel in a triggerfish, because they’ll move fast once you hook up.
If the triggerfish are being stubborn and not biting, you may want to try a technique called “bucketing.” These fish really love to hide inside anything floating around, something you can use to your advantage.
You will need a five-gallon bucket or something of similar size to entice the triggers.
If a triggerfish has been playing with you and won’t bite, bring the boat as close to it as possible. Tie a line on the bucket and add a little lead, fill the bucket with water, and let it sink next to the boat. Under the right circumstanes, it’s pretty likely that a triggerfish will swim into the bucket.
Now is an excellent time to remember the mouth full of big teeth that the triggerfish possess. Those fish can take a pretty good chunk out of your finger or hand. Be very cautious when removing a hook.
The dorsal fin of the triggerfish will be useful right after you catch it. When the dorsal fin is up, there is no way for you to force it down. Push the second spine down, and it acts as a trigger and unlocks the dorsal fin so it can be pushed down.
Next time you’re out fishing the reef, it may be a good time to finally try putting a few triggerfish in the cooler. They’re usually classified by fishermen as pesky bait thieves, but shouldn’t be overlooked as a potential tasty meal.
Just make sure you keep food safety in mind when you’re deciding whether or not to eat a trigger. Stick to keeping the smaller fish and you’ll almost always be good to go.