Samui Wining & Dining
Catch of the day

Learning more about the infamous Barracuda.

 

2-3Often, they’re considered far more fearsome than any shark. And with a set of teeth to make Hannibal Lecter jealous, Barracudas are a fish to be respected. A favourite of sport fishermen the world over, they can in fact make fantastic eating. If you can catch them!

    Barracudas are ray-finned fish notable for their large size (up to two metres) and great predatory skills. Found in tropical and sub-tropical waters, their bodies are long, fairly compressed and are covered in small, smooth scales. Their genus Sphyraenus, is the only genus in the family Syphraenidae. Possessing powerful jaws, their lower one juts out beyond the upper and they have strong, fang-like teeth. These are unequal in size and perfect for ripping apart prey. Barracudas occur both singly and in schools around reefs, and can appear in open seas. Hunting tends to be the classic tactic of either lie-in-wait or ambush. Sacrificing manoeuvrability, they rely on surprise and short bursts of speed to overrun their prey. Young and half-grown barracudas tend to congregate in shoals whilst mature adults are more-or-less solitary in their habits. Large barracudas, when gorged, exhibit the curious and somewhat unpleasant tendency of hoarding a shoal of fish in shallow waters. Here they guard over them until they are ready for another meal.

      Coral reefs suit them far better than, say, tuna as their bodies are long and flexible enough to move through the various twists and turns found there. With its sleek, torpedo-like body, dagger-sharp teeth and ferocious appetite, the barracuda is built to hunt in the ocean. And it’s been doing so for tens of millions of years. Any diver who’s seen a barracuda attack another fish can tell you that it happens faster than you can say, “What the …!!”. One moment a barracuda will be drifting lazily, the next, it’s rocketing toward another fish snapping it up in its jaws. But does that make it the most successful hunter in the world’s oceans? That’s hard to measure. Though it hasn’t been around for so long just because it’s lucky!

      Like sharks, they have long suffered from an unjust bad reputation inflicted upon them by the media. In reality, unprovoked attacks on humans are extremely rare. Millions of scuba divers, snorkellers and swimmers have spent time with them in the water without incident. Sometimes they do follow divers across a reef which can be an uncomfortable feeling but, unless provoked, they’ll keep their distance. Even if they do attack, they’ll stop after the first bite as we just don’t taste that good to them! Of the existing 26 species, several are found around coastal Thailand. Just off our neighbouring island of Koh Tao, a hot-spot for diving, barracudas such as the sawtooth (Sphyraena putnamae) can be observed. Probably the many dive professionals on the island will be the best source of information on their behaviour.

       They do make excellent table fare. Like salmon or tuna, they have a strong fish taste and because of their high oil content, they are great eaten smoked. Deep-frying isn’t recommended due to the oil, however baked, poached, sautéed or grilled are all superb ways of having them cooked. Larger species, like the Great Barracuda found off the Americas, can sometimes be toxic due to ciguatera, a toxin found in some smaller fish that they prey on.

      In terms of the biggest caught, that was a whopping 38.5 kilos, netted near Christmas Island in the Republic of Kiribati in 1992. No-one knows for sure how long they can live for, but research indicates an upper age of around 14 years. It’s still unclear about the timing and location of spawning of barracuda. Some research reports that they spawn in the spring. Others suggest they spawn in association with particular phases of the moon. Still others claim that they spawn when the conditions are right, regardless of the time of year. It may well be that spawning patterns vary in different areas of the world. One thing that is known about the Great Barracuda is that they do not take care of their fertilized eggs. They are left to drift around in the ocean and eventually take form. When the fish spawn, they will try to enter shallow waters such as estuaries to evade predators. Larvae will seek out weedy areas and reed beds, slowly moving out to deeper waters once they have grown to about 50cm in length.

      Undoubtedly they are challenging for any fisherman to catch. And they are fascinating to watch in their natural environment. But they are also a wonderful source of protein and essential oils for us. However, if fish isn’t to your liking there is another kind of barracuda you can try. It’s a famous cocktail containing Southern Comfort, Triple sec and vodka. All served together in equal measures in a shot glass and downed in one. If you think the fish has a nasty bite – try a few of these!

 

 

Johnny Paterson


 


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