Nov. 17, 2005 – There's a new type of fish swimming around Virgin Islands restaurant menus – cobia. It's a salt-water fish grown at Snapperfarm Inc., a Culebra, Puerto Rico fish farm.
"It's a firm, white fish," Judy Grogan of Merchants Market in St. Thomas said. Merchants Market distributes the fish to restaurants and retailers in the Virgin Islands.
It can be grilled, fried, steamed, broiled, or served raw as sashimi or sushi. It retains its quality when frozen. The fish is high in the Omega-3 essential fatty acids touted by health professionals as beneficial for hearts.
Aaron Willis, chef at the Fish Trap and Stone Terrace Restaurants on St. John had high praise for the fish. "I'm getting raves about it," he said. He also sells it at his Fish Trap Fish Market.
Willis said that he had cobia sauteed with a spicy mussel Creole sauce on the menu that night. He agreed with Grogan about the description, but also added that the fish was flaky. "It's more like mahi in texture, but looks more like snapper," Willis said.
While Willis said the fish is tasty, he also likes the idea that it's grown on a fish farm to augment declining fish stocks. Owner Brian O'Hanlon said that the cobia is grown in two cages 100 feet deep in the water. They're located two miles off Culebra. "It's like two circus tents flipped on top of each other," he said of the cages.
He said he picked Culebra because the conditions were right. The water temperature was stable, the area had excellent water quality and the currents matched their needs. "And the community was receptive," he said. He said that he has a good relationship with the island's fishermen.
Residents of St. Croix are trying to start a cobia fish farm too. (See "Fish Farm Plan in Government Limbo".) The V.I. Senate last week approved a zoning variance to allow the plan to go forward.
O'Hanlon said the process starts by relocating cobia fingerlings from a fish hatchery to the fish farm. They then spawn, creating more fish. He said they're fed with pellets of fish food. He said the company employs six people. O'Hanlon said his company expects to expand to other varieties of fish and set up operations in other locations. He said he was looking at the Virgin Islands. He said Snapperfarm's Cobia is available in the Virgin Islands, San Juan and Culebra. It's also flown to Miami and New York. He said his family was in the fish business in New York.
Snapperfarm is one of only three companies that grow fish in cages in the open ocean. One Hawaiian company grows moi and a second Hawaii-based company grows amberjack.
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