Cobia in SoCal?

I just read a post, on another board, from someone who stumbled on Cobia in the seafood department at an H Mart where he lives. He’d never heard of it before and neither have I. A little Googling says this species was causing concern in 2016 as a large Cobia population has escaped their pens South of here and was headed our way.

What do we know about Cobia? As an eating experience, availability in SoCal, and as a threat to local fish populations?

I don’t know the answers to your questions, but I had cobia while in Florida for Spring Break. It was a nice and delightful white fish. It cooks up firmer and is reminiscent of swordfish and mahi mahi…but more buttery. I had it pan-seared. I don’t know if it’s served or available here in L.A.

Sweet, a fish question. Basically the only thing I’m good for.

I’ve never had cobia, but by all accounts they’re great eating. They’re found pretty much worldwide in tropical and subtropical waters – the only exception is the Eastern Pacific, where it’s strangely not present.

Some farmed fish did escape into the wild, (thousands, actually) but concerns that they would ever reach anywhere near here are unfounded in my opinion (and Milton Love is one of my personal heroes.) Our waters are much too cold for them. Similar aquatic climates near the cobia’s native range don’t get cobia, except as very rare one-off catches. Given that two years have passed and I haven’t heard anything more about cobia being caught in Central American Pacific waters yet, it seems like the concern in 2016 that they’d establish themselves here and do eco damage hasn’t come to fruition yet.

To me, it’s not dissimilar to the tarpon, which reached the Pacific through the Panama Canal. Some tarpon are caught in Panama and Costa Rica. But they’re not taking over. Why? Because every fish has different demands for what makes it want to breed.

All fish have a natural range and certain environmental demands for breeding. Given that fish have tails, and many fish larvae are pelagic, and weather patters bring anomalous water conditions to every locale, it stands to reason that pretty much every fish will appear in odd places from time to time. We get a lot of these exotic fish during El Nino events. But generally speaking, when exotic fish take up residence at the extreme end of their range, they don’t establish a population because they don’t breed there. The water conditions aren’t to their liking. You find sheephead wrasse in abundance in central California, for example, but the fish North of San Simeon do not breed.

Some fish can be taken to new environment and breed, like the striped bass (which was intentionally introduced to the west coast in the 19th century when 100 fish were taken here by the new cross country railroad) which seemingly only wants temperate ocean and fresh water outlets to breed. Or the lionfish which is damaging to the ecosystem in the Caribbean. Or the snapper and peacock grouper introduced to Hawai’i which are considered invasives (although they’ve seemed to have settled into a better balance than the lionfish.)

But the tarpon has been present in the Pacific since the canal was built, and still the fish caught in the Pacific (we think) are simply fish that made the journey themselves. They haven’t established a breeding population in the Pacific, so there’s no risk that they’ll create a population sufficient to create any kind of threat.

I suspect only time will tell if the cobia can breed in the East Pacific. If it does, however, I don’t see it reaching our waters in all but the most anomalously warm water years, and I don’t see it creating the kind of devastation the lionfish did, because it’s not armed with anything that would make it an unusually strong competitor (the lionfish has giant, venemous spines that make it hard for anything to prey on it – although the Caribbean fauna is slowly figuring out how to kill them, amazing how nature seems to find balance on its own.) So if it did establish a breeding population here but wasn’t over-competitive, that might only mean there’s a new, fun, tasty fish to catch without much drawback. Sort of like what we got with striped bass.

Here’s the most recent article I found discussing it:

According to that article, fish with mature gonads have been caught in the Eastern Pacific, and fish have been caught as far as 600 miles from the release site in Ecuador. However, I can’t help but think of the 400,000 Atlantic Salmon accidentally released in Puget Sound, which bred for a year or two then stopped cold. Or the extreme efforts we put into establishing Coho Salmon in the Sac river, which again resulted in limited spawning at first, followed by failure.

So yeah, we won’t know until we know, and there’s always concern about environmental upset when a species is introduced, but generally the ones that cause most damage are ones that have some kind of hyper-competitive advantage, and the cobia really doesn’t have seem to have any. Even when you look at most fish that man introduces to a new locale that do take up residence and breed, remarkably few of them have devastating or even significantly detrimental consequences.

If it was fresh enough, I’d buy it to try it. I’ve always been curious how they taste. To answer attran’s question, I’ve never seen it for sale. I don’t think it has the name recognition here that it does on the east coast, so I suspect they’re not able to fetch a high enough price for it to cover shipping it here. It is being farmed more and more, though, so that may change.


Well… thank you. Lots of interesting info. I was going to look for spiney lobsters at Jon’s Fish Marrket (in Dana Point Harbor) tomorrow. I’ll see if they know anything about Cobia to actually eat if I go.

Great fish info, as always.

What are your thoughts on snakeheads as an invasive species?

Are you Michael Cimarusti or Jiro?

i see someone reads wineberserkers!

I keep waiting for someone to ask a question I have some expertise in.



high five

True, but it’s done wonders for the NZ salmon industry which was originally created by introducing wild king salmon from the Sacramento delta. These guys have teamed up with a few large distributors across the US, should be able to track down a local spot in LA that carries it. I’ve had it before, it’s decent fish.

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they are offering cobia tacos at mccormick & schmick’ for the rest of october a part of seafood month, but the only remaining location in the southland that i know of is in anaheim.

i miss their happy hour $2 cheeseburger and fries.

also, i’ve heard some advocate for cobia sushi/sashimi though i’ve not seen it offered around here.


Thanks for that. There’s also one in Irvine but I’m looking for a source to buy for home cooking. The link in not_tellin’s post also lists restaurants but no fish purveyors. The search continues.

I didn’t make it to DP Harbor today, so there’s still that possibility. I suppose I could also make some calls to places like 99 Ranch and Santa Monica Seafood.

have you considered contacting the restaurants and asking them about their vendors/sourcing?

also, M&S have 3-4 other entrees featuring cobia.

I would check with Pearson’s Port (no website) as well. If anyone knows about local fish, or about to be local fish, I would think they would (besides they are great people).

I guess I gotta do the homework too! Give me a couple days and I can prob have an answer for you.

Sushi/sashimi is always a weird one.

Maaaaany fish are conspicuously absent from sushi bar menus, despite being prized by the people who catch/shoot them for their quality in raw preparation.

I’ve never seen wahoo on a sushi bar menu (I have seen fish listed as “ono,” which is the Hawai’ian word for wahoo, or “Hawaiian King Mackerel” but every time in my experience it has turned out to be escolar.) But wahoo is considered by many to be among the best fish for sushi/sashimi.

Locally, white sea bass are great for sushi/sashimi, but I’ve never seen it on any menus either.

Cobia might appear on sushi bar menus in the southeastern states, I wouldn’t know, but I suspect it might be in the same camp of mysterious absentees.

The only hypothesis I have for why those fish aren’t sold is that they aren’t among the traditional Japanese fish a more authentic sushi bar would serve, and lower-tier sushi bars are probably worried about stocking anything that the casual American diner wouldn’t recognize. Even a fish people might recognize, like wahoo or white sea bass, might not get as many buys because people say to themselves, “I’ve never seen that on a sushi bar menu before, so is it even good for sushi? Can you eat that fish raw? I’ll just have the yellowtail.”

I know some fish, like mahi mahi, or (for the most part) true bonito (Sarda genus – what you typically see listed as “bonito” is really what we’d call a skipjack, Katsuwonus genus) don’t make it because of a short shelf life and poor freezing ability, and mahi mahi, while certainly edible and enjoyable enough raw, just isn’t that good. (Really, it’s overrated as heck as a general matter.) So some fish do have good reason for not making to the sushi bar menu. They’re like the loquats of the sea – most people would like them, but if you want to sell them, better sell out fast because you’re going to have a pile of rotten mush in just a couple days.


Freshwater isn’t really my strong suit, but I am familiar with them.

The first thing I look at when answering this question is whether they have some kind of competitive advantage, and that answer is clearly yes, as they have: supremely fast growth rate, high fecundity, an ability to thrive in dynamic and diverse climates (e.g. wide ranges in temp, salinity, oxygen levels) and no natural predators in much of its introduced range. So that tends to suggest they would be a problem.

As far as what specific consequences it could have, that’s a much tougher question. I’m not sure, and from what I understand, it doesn’t sound like there have been really any notable consequences at all. Here’s what the US Geological Survey had to say about them (and try not to laugh at the absurd redundancy:)

“During all life stages, snakeheads compete with native species for food and habitat. A major concern is that snakeheads may out-compete and eventually displace important native or other established predatory fish that share the same habitat. As adults, snakeheads can be voracious predators. Should snakeheads become established in North American ecosystems, their predatory behavior could also drastically disrupt food webs and ecological conditions, thus forever changing native aquatic systems by modifying the array of native species.”

Sounds… nebulous. And it also points to one of my first thoughts on the matter, the “established predatory fish” they refer to. Given that we’ve introduced largemouth bass, striped bass, catfish of all shapes and colors, trout, sunfish, and many other exotic fish to our freshwater ecosystems all over the country, do we really have the delicate eco-balance they imply exists now?

So all in all, it’s a more dangerous one because of its competitive advantages, but I still have to surmise that it’s just another fish that will find its balance and not really upset or affect things too much. I remember when I first started hearing about them nearly twenty years ago, and it sounds like no single place has had any effect from them that you’d consider disastrous or even significant.

Some places and some species (and some combinations of the two) can be really, really bad. So we aren’t wasting our time trying to prevent species introduction, and we aren’t making a big fuss over nothing when something pops up somewhere it shouldn’t. But you can’t get too uppity about what’s native and what isn’t, or you’ll only see those beautiful springtime mustard blooms and grassy meadows as a bunch of nasty weeds. Nature is far more resilient than we give it credit for. Sometimes change isn’t objectively for the better or worse, and that seems to be more the rule than the exception when it comes to non-native species introduction.


Preach, brutha…

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