With approximately three thousand species known to date, catfish are a very unique and diverse group of fish with a wide range of differences in habitat, behavior, and diet. Catfish are generally safe to eat, but with so many different species of catfish out there it can be difficult to know which is best and some types of catfish are more desirable for human consumption than others. The flathead catfish (also known as mud cat, shovelhead, or yellow cat) is one of the most commonly found types of catfish in the US, but is it safe to eat?
So, are flathead catfish good to eat? Yes, flathead catfish are safe to eat. Like any catfish that you might catch to eat, keep in mind that the environment that the fish is living in will play a large factor in the safety of consuming the fish. Be sure that you are fishing in a clean water source free of pollutants.
Flathead catfish are not the only catfish that are good to eat. All catfish are safe to eat, but in addition to flathead catfish, channel catfish and blue catfish are other popular types of catfish that people often eat. One reason for this is because they are among the most common types of catfish.
Are Flathead Catfish Safe to Eat? (Bottom Dwellers)
You may have heard that catfish are bottom feeders. Along with their unique look due to their barbels (cat-like whiskers) and smooth skin due to lack of scales…has resulted in some people believing that catfish such as the flathead catfish are unclean or unsafe compared to other fish in the same environment.
Let’s look at what it means to be a bottom feeder and whether or not this has an impact on whether the fish should be consumed.
You’re likely wondering if bottom dwellers, and more specifically bottom dwelling catfish are safe to eat. Bottom dwelling fish can get a bad reputation when it comes to viewing them as food, as people often see them as slow moving creatures, lurking in the murky waters, eating the leftovers that fall to the bottom of the water.
In an aquarium setting, bottom feeders are seen as the cleaners of the fish tank and are used to pick up food missed by other fish that would otherwise sit at the bottom collecting algae. Bottom dwellers are used like garbage disposals that keep the tank clean and balance the ecosystem.
Understandably, this makes bottom dwelling fish sound quite unappetizing when thinking about them in the context of dinner. Catfish can also look particularly unappealing due to the unique physical characteristics that differentiate them from other fish – mainly their cat-like whiskers, called barbels, and their smooth leathery skin due to lack of scales.
But let’s think about what we now know about the catfish and their behavior and diet. While catfish do often dwell at the bottom of the water, we’ve seen that their diets consist of much more than the ‘leftovers’ falling to the bottom of the water, and that they will go out and actively search for prey when needed.
Regardless of how and where they find their food, bottom dwellers can be perfectly safe to eat. Some common bottom feeder fish that you may find on the menu at your favorite restaurant are:
- Lobster scallops
Tilapia is often considered a bottom feeder as well, although some consider it to be more of a middle feeder, and catfish, which you now know generally dwell at the bottom but will look for food in other areas.
Many of these commonly eaten fish actually thrive on ‘leftovers’ and get their nutrients from that undesirable algae at the bottom of your fish tank.
Catfish and other bottom feeders – does it matter when it comes to your food?
Catfish primarily dwell at the bottom of a body of water, and while some are exclusively bottom feeders, many will go to all levels when they are in search of food. Since they generally stay toward the bottom of the water, many people think their diets consist of the scraps that none of the other fish that dwell higher up are interested in eating, giving catfish the reputation of being unclean.
Different from most other catfish which are scavenger (which preys on dead and decaying plants and animals), the flathead catfish in prefers live prey if available and will leave the bottom in order to find a suitable meal which generally consists of fish, worms, crustaceans, crayfish, and sometimes even other catfish.
When considering if a catfish is good to eat or not, there may be other factors you should consider. The most important thing to consider when determining whether or not a fish may be safe to eat or not, is not necessarily the diet of that particular fish based on its preferred level within the water, but the environment in which that fish was living. A fish living in a polluted environment is never safe to eat.
Health Benefits of Eating Catfish
Catfish are a very health fish option for 3 main reasons:
- Lean protein – A lean protein means the protein content is high and the fat content is low. Protein is one of the three macronutrients (fat and carbohydrates being the other two) and is essential in building and repairing muscle tissue along with supporting bone, cartilage, skin, and blood health.
- B12 – Vitamin B12 is known to be an integral part of many functions such as red blood cell formation, DNA production, and cell metabolism. Vitamin B12 also supports strong bones, increases energy, and boosts mood.
- Omega-3 fatty acids – Omega-3 fatty acids have a great number of health benefits and are vital to overall health. Omega-3 fatty acids promote brain health, decrease risk factors of heart disease, improve eye health, fight inflammation, improve bone and joint health, among many other health benefits. They are also known to fight anxiety and depression, which are two of the most common mental health issues.
While other fish also contain high amounts of protein, vitamin B12, and omega-3 fatty acids, catfish rank among the highest in all three areas, making them a healthy meal option.
Where Can You Find a Flathead Catfish?
Flathead catfish are native to the Mississippi River basin and as far east as the western Appalachian mountains and as far west as Texas.
Their range extends from the Gulf of Mexico to southern Canada and they have also been stocked in many other areas.
Flathead catfish are freshwater fish, but can temporarily survive in salt water with a low salt concentration.
They primarily live in lakes and reservoirs or rivers and streams with slow current.
What Does a Flathead Catfish Look Like?
As the name suggests, the flathead catfish has a flat head, which is its most distinguishing feature from other catfish.
Like all catfish, it has barbels around its mouth, which are cat-like looking whiskers that help it feel, and smooth skin due to its lack of scales.
The flathead catfish is usually a pale yellow and light brown color, which is where its nicknames yellow cat and mud fish come from.
Conclusion – Are Flathead Catfish Good to Eat?
Flathead catfish can make a great meal due to their health benefits and are relatively easy to find since they are among the most common types of catfish in the United States.
Remember to be sure that you are fishing in a clean environment as this will impact the safety of your food.