If you like seafood, chances are you’ve eaten Hog Snapper (also known as Hogfish) which gets its name from its long snout used to root for food on the ocean floor. What you probably didn’t know is that the Hog Snapper isn’t a snapper at all. It’s actually a wrasse, but the light, flaky, mild flavored meat is similar to the American Red Snapper. Both are lean, slightly sweet, and firm, although the Hogfish is often thicker. The subtle sweetness comes from the crabs, mussels, and shrimp it feeds on.
All along the Caribbean and even into the Northern tip of South Africa, this healthy, sustainable fish can be found close to natural reefs and shipwrecks. One of the most fascinating aspects about the Hogfish is that it is a protogynous hermaphrodite, beginning life as a female then switching its gender at about three years of age transforming it into a male. They can grow up to three feet long and weigh roughly 22 pounds. Their age and gender can be indicated by their color which ranges from pearl white to grey during the juvenile and female stages, and eventually dark reddish-brown by adulthood. Males are brightly colored compared to females and have distinct yellow pectoral fins. Schools of Hogfish run in a harem consisting of one male and several females. In Florida, the spawning season takes place two months out of the year in February and March.
By now you might be browsing our menu looking for this delicious delicacy, but you won’t find it listed there as a regular entrée. Instead, the Hog Snapper is a specialty item we serve as the fresh catch of the day when available. This is because it isn’t easy to acquire. Currently, spear fishing is the primary method of snagging a Hogfish. This adventurous profession can be quite dangerous. Commercial spearfishermen free dive without oxygen. Holding their breath up to two minutes and using a speargun they hunt and harpoon the Hog Snapper. Two minutes doesn’t sound like much time, but if you try it even while you read this post, it will probably feel like the longest two minutes of your life. They contend with serious risks underwater from fighting the swiftly moving current to close encounters with other curious marine life like sharks or barracudas. A wounded thrashing Hogfish sets off the alarm to its predators and can turn a routine dive into a dicey situation.
Thankfully, their speargun offers a little protection. Some fisherman use spearguns built with power bands, but the majority use compressed air guns for smoother release. The length of the gun affects range and precision, but that is only an advantage if you’re skilled at tracking and hunting the Hogfish. Mastering the trade is both an art and a science so as you get ready to dine on one of the most coveted fish in the sea, give thanks to the fisherman who provided the feast!