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Can You Eat Goldfish? The quick answer is yes, you can. However, eating your pet goldfish might sound repulsive, but there are some genuine reasons why you should.
Goldfish are a fan favorite in the aquarium hobby, but they also have a huge financial, historical, cultural, and ecological importance. For many, these fish are a domesticated species of wild carp that have made their way into the home aquarium, but some see them as a viable source of food while also controlling invasive populations.
Ever wondered about whether or not you could eat a domesticated goldfish? Keep reading to find out why you should or shouldn’t take a bite of your fishy friend!
- Are goldfish edible? Yes, they are as long as they were raised in controlled conditions.
- What do goldfish taste like? Goldfish aren’t the most delicious freshwater fish you can eat, but there are a few reasons why you might change your mind about sampling.
- Goldfish are very invasive and some fisheries have taken advantage of their numbers by selling their harvest to commercial food industries.
- With the right ingredients, goldfish can taste like a muddy white fish.
The History First
Before deciding whether or not to eat your goldfish, it is important to understand where these freshwater fish came from and why.
Domesticated goldfish (Carassius auratus) are the result of thousands of years of selectively breeding various species of wild Asian carp for desired shapes and colors. These wild fish were kept throughout East Asia in sacred ponds for ornamental purposes as well as cultural and spiritual significance as they were thought to bring prosperity and luck.
Eventually, this new fish became popular in other countries, namely Japan, where the desired traits were bred out even further to create some of the vibrant colors and unique shapes we have today. As the popularity of goldfish increased, European nobility adopted pet goldfish and eventually exported them to North America.
Towards the 1800s, pet goldfish popularity exploded. This gave way to the many popular breeds we have today, but it also helped contribute to the exponential release and rise of goldfish as an invasive species to natural waterways.
While goldfish have mostly been seen as pets, close carp relatives have always been on the menu.
Just like goldfish, carp were domesticated for consumption. The harvesting of carp can be dated back to early Chinese and Roman history. Dishes and methods of preparation undoubtedly spread across the world, though they were especially popular in rural areas.
During the early 1900s, goldfish swallowing became a fun party trick fo college students in universities; the challenge was to swallow a live goldfish whole. This tradition of swallowing goldfish still lives among some campuses but has raised questions of ethics and safety. It’s also a very popular dare or bar trick done in colleges (most notably Matt Schulien4).
The most-publicized college fad in history started on March 3, 1939, in the Harvard Union, when freshman Lothrop Withington, Jr., ’42, goaded by a bet with his roomates, downed a goldfish never to be upped again. Pocketing a wager of $10 in good 1939 currency for his efforts, the Yardling thus ushered in a two-month period, which “Time Magazine called “among the maddest in the annals of U.S. Undergraduates.”Source – The Harvard Crimson
Today, carp fisheries are still in business, and dishes, like the Japanese nishikigoi nabe–a koi hot pot–are still popular. In fact, Lake Eerie, Michigan is one of the biggest producers of goldfish and carp meat, which has proven to be a very lucrative bycatch from local fisheries. The practice is starting to pickup in the United States:
In 2015, Michigan and Ohio commercial fishermen netted 113,800 pounds of goldfish in western Lake Erie, the only Great Lake that yields enough to market. Michigan waters produced about 78 percent of that catch, or 88,791 pounds.Source – MLive
But can you eat goldfish?
The answer is yes, you can eat goldfish. There are actually a few good reasons why you should try eating goldfish, but also a few counterarguments as to why these fish should stay pets.
What makes goldfish different from any other freshwater fish? Anatomically, not much. This means that they’re technically edible and safe to eat as long as they’ve been raised in healthy conditions. While disease and illness are a real concern, whether or not to eat goldfish is largely a question of ethics.
If you need help feeling better about choosing to eat a goldfish, though, here are a few reasons why you might take the chance.
The main reason to eat a goldfish is to control wild populations. Goldfish are one of the most invasive species of fish on all continents apart from Antarctica1. These fish reproduce quickly and adapt to imperfect conditions. On top of this, goldfish are regularly added to ponds and rivers by unprepared fish owners. This leads to them quickly outcompeting other native species.
During the peak spawning seasons, goldfish can reproduce almost every 3 weeks. These egg clutches can be anywhere from a few hundred fish to several thousand, depending on the maturity and health of the goldfish. While not all fry survive, many new goldfish enter the ecosystem and take away resources from other species.
If you’ve ever kept a goldfish in an aquarium before, you’ll know that they’re very messy fish. Not only do these fish eat a lot and create a ton of waste in return, but they like to rummage through the substrate and uproot plants and decorations.
Wild goldfish demonstrate these same behaviors. They are ravenous fish that will clear a habitat of its natural resources. In the beginning, this was used as a benefit as goldfish helped eliminate algae from waterways. However, as the fish processed the foods and created waste, they would actually increase the amount of nutrients and subsequent algae in the water.
Not only do invasive goldfish outcompete other species by taking resources, but they also change the makeup of the entire environment.
Hardiness And Adapting
Goldfish are also incredibly hardy and adapting. These fish are a coldwater species that can survive a wide range of temperatures. They are also very prepared to hibernate over long, cold winters. While goldfish will still succumb to high levels of ammonia, nitrite, and nitrate, they are much more hardy than other fish species that might be present.
While it might not seem like a significant amount at the local scale, hundreds if not thousands of ornamental goldfish are released in the wild every year around the world2. This leads to goldfish populations establishing in new ecosystems while also resupplying and adding to already existing ones.
Both these factors, in addition to hobbyist releases, lead to exponential growth in populations. Many ecosystems lack a natural goldfish predator, and so populations are left uncontrolled.
As mentioned before, some fisheries have started harvesting wild goldfish for commercial purposes, but recreational fishermen are also encouraged to try eating wild goldfish they may catch. The hope is that eating goldfish becomes as normalized as eating other freshwater fish species.
Normalizing Eating Goldfish
Another reason to eat goldfish is because there aren’t very many reasons not to if you’re careful. If you consider a goldfish like any other kind of fish species, then there are few differences. The main difference is that some goldfish are raised to be pets while other fish are raised to be food.
The truth is that eating wild carp and goldfish is a cultural norm in some places. Expanding your appetite also helps support goldfish farming and carp fisheries that would otherwise lose profit to unusable bycatch.
Can you eat goldfish? Yes. But justifying humans eating goldfish is another story.
There are several reasons why you shouldn’t eat goldfish, including taste and proportion, disease and illness, and ethics. Not only are these fish members of the family, but they can also cause problems if not harvested correctly.
Taste And Proportion
One of the main reasons to not eat goldfish is due to their taste. While I’ve never personally tried these fish, I’ve heard goldfish taste similar to the worst parts of a muddy catfish, no matter how much seasoning you use.
This makes sense, though. Members of the carp family are largely bottom-dwelling fish that eat a variety of vegetation, insects, and, sometimes, garbage. These are scavenging fish that will dig through the dirt for food and will likely end up eating some of that dirt along the way, resulting in a muddy taste. Raw fillets are also very smelly, and the smell does not fade even when you cook goldfish.
Not only do goldfish taste muddy, but they’re also very bony fish. These fish vary greatly in size from one individual to the next, meaning that bones can be big or small. Even then, small bones are difficult to remove and often not worth the time of removing. Because of this, it’s often recommended to cook goldfish in a stew or soup to extract the flavor and easily remove the meat. It is safe to say goldfish raw dishes don’t exist and don’t expect goldfish sushi!
Another aspect to consider is that goldfish have very little meat. Even though these fish can surpass a foot in length, the fillets cut are still very small. This, in addition to the muddy taste, smell, and many bones, makes eating a goldfish more work than it’s worth.
However, the cooking process has a lot to do with whether goldfish taste good or bad. As mentioned before, many cultures eat and enjoy goldfish as a food source.
Disease And Illness
One of the main concerns about eating a domesticated or feral goldfish is disease and illness. Like other fish, goldfish carry harmful parasites, diseases, and illnesses – especially if you purchase feeder fish. There is also a risk of salmonella from eating fish from your fish tanks.
If you decide to eat domesticated or wild goldfish, then it definitely shouldn’t be eaten raw. This is because goldfish are known to carry a specific disease, known as fish tuberculosis, caused by a harmful bacteria, Mycobacteriosis spp..3 This can be transferred to humans and cause many complications.
Like other freshwater species, goldfish can also carry harmful parasites. Various worms and parasitic microorganisms are common in wild animals but are also likely to be found in the home aquarium. Consider all the possible illnesses ornamental aquarium species carry, like ich, velvet, and dropsy. All of these conditions can be found dormant or active in goldfish.
As mentioned before, it is also possible that goldfish living in a backyard pond or other outside ecosystem can ingest garbage.
It’s important to keep in mind that almost every fish harvested for commercial foods contains parasites. However, many fish are treated with antibiotics to prevent breakouts.
The main reason why people don’t eat live goldfish is largely due to ethics. Whether you win your fish at a fair, catch it in a lake, or buy one from the pet store, these fish were bred to be pets. For too long, these fish were sold with the intent of being kept in a controlled environment. While they can survive and withstand harsher conditions in the wild, this is often seen as inhumane and irresponsible by most fishkeepers.
It’s hard to think about eating a pet, and many fish owners would not even have the thought cross their mind. It is important to understand why some communities may rely on live goldfish as a food source and how their consumption could create a positive impact.
Even if you wanted to eat a goldfish, it might be illegal where you live. Several countries have laws surrounding animal preparation and consumption, including that of goldfish. Even more countries have strict regulations surrounding catching and harvesting both freshwater and marine life.
If you do intend to eat goldfish, then always check with local laws and regulations.
Bonus – Where To Learn How To Cook Them
Okay so you weighed the options and are curious now. Where do you learn how to cook them? I’ll provide two sources for you. One is by Village Food Village and the other is from the MeatEater. Since I know several readers will be shocked seeing fish that look like their pets get cooked and eaten, I’ll leave you to clicking the links to see the video.
Are goldfish good eating?
No, goldfish are not usually good to eat unless the person has been acclimated to the taste. Most foreign goldfish consumers agree that goldfish taste bad. They say they taste like the worst parts of freshwater catfish, with tons of bones and a very fishy smell and taste that does not go away when cooked!
How many edible goldfish should you eat?
I cannot tell you how many goldfish you should eat. There are many factors surrounding the quality of goldfish at hand, including if they had access to healthy vegetation and a controlled environment as well as if they’ve been treated for diseases, like intestinal worms.
Are goldfish and koi the same?
No, goldfish and koi are not the same. Scientifically, goldfish are Carassius auratus, while koi are Cyprinus rubrofuscus. Both these fish share common ancestors, but koi are much larger fish.
Like goldfish, koi were historically raised for commercial food and are still part of some common dishes throughout Asia. Most people say koi fish taste like oily and muddy white fish.
Are goldfish edible?
Yes, goldfish is safe to eat as long as the fish was raised in safe conditions. There are no anatomical features that would make a goldfish inedible, though don’t expect the meat to taste good!
Do Chinese cultures eat goldfish?
Yes, Chinese cultures have and do eat goldfish. More often, carp is more heavily farmed and processed than goldfish, but they are still sometimes eaten in more rural regions.
Do adults eat goldfish?
Yes, adults can eat goldfish. In fact, eating a goldfish is not limited to any age or culture as long as the fish has been fully treated and cooked.
Are wild goldfish good to eat?
Most consumers agree that goldfish taste like the bottom of the ponds they’re found in. However, there are many ways to prepare a goldfish dish so that they take on the desired flavors of the given spices and ingredients. For example, many cultures use goldfish and carp for soups and broths.
Are goldfish edible? Yes. What do goldfish taste like? Well, not the best.
Goldfish have a long history of being beloved pets in the aquarium hobby. These fish were bred over thousands of years for the best colors and patterns, and they largely rely on humans for their livelihood. However, exploding populations and normalized bycatch may just make these fish the next most popular dinner platter.
As long as the goldfish are carefully curated for human consumption, then there is no reason they can’t be eaten. If you’re worried about taste, disease and illness, or just can’t seem to eat your scaly friend, then they still make fantastic pets.
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I’m thrilled that you found Aquarium Store Depot! Here you’ll find information on fish, aquariums, and all things aquatics related. I’m a hobbyist (being doing this since I was 11) and here to help other hobbyists thrive with their aquariums!