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Product Spotlight: Cobia
Sustainable characteristics make the farmed species a fish with a future
By April Forristall
January 01, 2008
Cobia is a new fish in terms of public recognition and has
very limited distribution in the United States - but don't
expect it to stay that way. One industry insider has the
whitefish poised to overtake tilapia in popularity within a
"It's been around in other countries but has not been
successful [in the United States] on a commercial scale,"
explains Michael Sussman, who is working with cobia farms in
South America and Asia as an aquaculture consultant. He has
worked exclusively with the species for the past couple of
years. "There are a few players attempting to change that.
[Cobia] is really going to emerge over the next five to seven
The main reason the mild-flavored whitefish is poised for
success is that it exhibits excellent traits for aquaculture.
The eco-friendly species has a grow-out rate three times that
of salmon (it's ready to harvest in under one year) and adapts
well to farming. It also has excellent flesh quality, a low
feed-conversion ratio and limited availability from the wild,
stimulating aquaculture research.
Snapperfarm, in Puerto Rico, is one company capitalizing on
cobia's success. The company started farming cobia in the late
1990s, following R&D leads coming out of Asia and research
in the United States supported by the National Oceanic and
Atmospheric Administration, explains Brian O'Hanlon,
Snapperfarm president and founder. Today, using deep-water
submerged cages in the open ocean, Snapperfarm produces 50 tons
of cobia annually, and demand has been steady, says
"We're really just selectively placing the fish with certain
customers," says O'Hanlon, adding that the company is targeting
the upper end of the foodservice market exclusively. Sussman
says most cobia producers are doing the same, focusing
marketing efforts on high-end foodservice accounts in the
"Many chefs are looking for new product [with some species
being overfished], and cobia is getting excellent responses,"
says Sussman. "It's versatile and the right price at $7 to $8
a pound, fresh."
O'Hanlon agrees that cobia's green profile makes it a
popular substitute for species that are overfished. "It can
substitute for a lot of other species that are in short
supply," he says.
One chef who has embraced cobia is Mirabelle owner Guy
Reuge. He's loved the fish since receiving a sample in August
from Snapperfarm at his St. James, N.Y., restaurant. Reuge buys
the fish whole and pan-sears fillets with light butter and oil,
serving it with sautéed bananas.
Reuge also acknowledges the need for new species in
foodservice. "Fish right now is getting scarce," he says. "So
it's good to have a new fish in the market."
Since cobia supplies are mostly farmed, it won't face the
same supply-versus-demand problems that caused the fall of
other popular species such as Chilean sea bass. "There's a lot
of opportunity to expand the market quite rapidly," says
Sussman. "Chefs want to know more about it. There's a lot of
interest in learning more about where they can buy it."
But sustainability isn't the only factor raising interest in
"It's a very sturdy fish," says Reuge. "It melts in your
mouth and doesn't have a hard texture."
Cobia also boasts omega-3 levels that rival that of coho
salmon, meeting increasing consumer demand for healthful
foods, and its versatility will keep it in demand. "It makes a
very versatile fish," says O'Hanlon. It can be baked, broiled,
barbequed, pan-seared, and served raw as sushi or sashimi,
among other preparations.
"It's phenomenal on the grill," says Sussman. "It also holds
up really well in terms of yield,[approximately 50 percent for
large fish], it doesn't shrink up."
"The demand has been moderate," says Reuge, but "it's going
to get more and more popular, I'm sure of that. It's just a
matter of time."
With its affinity for aquaculture, great taste and fair
price, buyers may consider cobia a fish with a future.
Editorial Assistant April Forristall can be e-mailed at