Muskie is quite a rare fish in some areas. Naturally, encountering this relative of pike for the first time, one of the thoughts that would cross your mind is: “Can you eat muskie fish?”
Well, there are no easy answers to this question. You’d assume that muskie is very similar to pike since they are closely related, but that’s not quite true. There are many things in common, but there also are a couple of crucial differences.
With that said, let’s have a look at the edibility and safety of muskie.
Can You Eat Muskie Fish?
When it comes to edibility, muskie can indeed be eaten. Moreover, muskie is quite similar to pike – that’s because muskie are part of the pike family. Not only that, but muskie are the largest species in the pike family!
With that said, it appears that muskie isn’t as tasty of a meal as pikes– it’s more similar to bass. It seems to have a milder taste, and it’s also quite a bony fish. And just like pike, muskie fish also have Y-shaped bones that make filleting and cleaning a headache.
Muskie is also difficult to catch because it is quite a rare fish in some areas–when angling, you are probably going to encounter many more pike fish than muskie fish! If you fish for food, then you shouldn’t really worry about muskie since you won’t be seeing this fish that often.
With that said, what should you do if you do catch muskie fish?
Well, there are two options – you keep it, or you release it back into the water. And your decision won’t be just a matter of preference – there are a few objective factors that would affect your decision.
Mercury in muskie fish
The first factor is mercury.
Mercury contamination is quite common in fish, especially predatory fish. Water gets contaminated with mercury due to environmentally-unfriendly human activities such as coal burning or iron mining. And then, fish living in the contaminated water get contaminated with mercury themselves.
And since predator fish eat other fish, the mercury concentrations in their bodies are much higher. The mercury contained in consumed fish accumulates in predator fish, which is the reason for the high mercury levels in their bodies.
Sharks, for example, contain 0.979 parts per million of mercury on average, while commonly consumed fish contain much less – trout contains just 0.071 parts per million, lobsters from 0.093 to 0.166, black bass 0.167, and tuna from 0.126 (canned light) to 0.689 (bigeye).
In its natural habitat, muskie fish is an apex predator, and it consumes all fish that are smaller than it. Being an apex predator, muskie fish do not have natural predators, except for humans and birds of prey and larger fish when juvenile.
And since muskie fish are predatory fish, they have a higher mercury concentration in their bodies than other fish. With that said, the US Food & Drug Administration doesn’t provide specific numbers on mercury concentrations in muskie fish neither in its 1990-2010 monitoring program report nor in the commercial fish & shellfish report.
Some state advisories do provide more precise information though. For example, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources recommends consuming no more than 1 meal of muskie fish per month.
Besides, the WDNR discourages women who intend to have children and children aged under 15 from eating muskie fish.
The WDNR claims that the mercury level in 40 inches long and longer muskie is “just over 1 ug/g” (1 microgram per 1 gram) on average. Since 1 microgram is a millionth of a gram, 1 ug/g corresponds to 1 part per million. This means that muskie fish are as mercury-contaminated as sharks, which is very high. This number may only apply to Wisconsin muskie, but it’s still high.
The FDA fish eating advisory actually suggests that you avoid consuming fish like sharks. This advice may also apply to muskie fish.
While the WDNR recommendations are a good place to start, we suggest that you check your local state advisories. The recommendations may differ from area to area, but one thing is clear – muskie fish is quite high in mercury, so you should be very careful with it.
Scarce muskie populations
Another thing to keep in mind with muskie fish is that its populations are very scarce in some areas. Due to this, states impose daily bag limits, which is the number of fish you are allowed to catch per day. Besides, states may impose minimum length requirements.
In Wisconsin, the daily bag limit is 1 in the majority of areas except for areas like Yellowstone Lake where the daily bag limit is 0 and areas like Escanaba Lake where there are no daily bag limits. Needless to say, Yellowstone Lake has a daily bag limit of 0 because muskie fish populations are endangered there, while Escanaba Lake populations are excessive.
Besides, in Wisconsin, the current statewide minimum muskie length is 40 inches, which means that you are not allowed to catch muskie under 40 inches of length. This rule applies to 94% of Wisconsin waters.
40 inches is quite a lot since other fish species mostly have minimum limits of about 10 inches and some do not have minimum limits at all.
The reason for such a high minimum length is the slow growth rate of muskie fish. As the WDNR guide states, muskie get about 11 inches long in a year, 34 inches in 7 years, 40 inches in 9 years, and 50 inches in 17 years.
With that said, muskie fish may not have any length limits in otherstates. For example, in Maine, muskie fisheries are not actively managed. That’s because muskie is not native to Maine, and since they are predatory, they can significantly harm native fish populations.
Due to this, some states may encourage anglers to catch muskie by removing any fishing limits.
Given all of the above, you should:
- Keep the caught muskie fish if the regulations in your area are not strict.
- Practice catch-and-release muskie fishing if there are strict limits in your area.
How to Cook Muskie Fish
The cooking process of muskie fish doesn’t really differ from that of other fish. You can fry it on a pan, bake it, grill it, or use it in your favorite fishing recipes. But since the taste of muskie fish isn’t quite the same as in pike, the dishes based on muskie may be a little bit different than expected.
Pan-fried muskie fish
Perhaps the simplest way to cook muskie fish is frying it on a pan. For a relatively simple pan-fried muskie, you will need the following ingredients:
- Muskie fish.
- Butter or oil.
- Salt, pepper, and any other seasoning ingredients to your taste.
And here are the frying steps:
- Clean and fillet the muskie fish. If you have ever filleted pike, then you shouldn’t have issues with muskie since they are similar. Otherwise, check this video guide.
- Put the fish fillets into a bowl and season them with lemon and seasonings of your choice.
- Let the fish marinate for about 1 hour.
- Place your pan with butter or oil onto medium heat.
- Place the fish into the pan and let each side fry for around 7-8 minutes.
Pecan nut crusted muskie fillets
This one’s a little bit more difficult recipe, but it will provide you with more options for managing the dish’s taste.
Here’s what you will need for this dish’ base recipe:
- 2 pounds of muskie fillets.
- 1 cup of pecans.
- 1/4 cup of melted butter.
- 1/4 cup of white wine.
- 1 zested and juiced lemon.
- 1 small minced shallot.
- 1/4 cup of peanut oil.
- Salt and paper to taste.
And here’s how to prepare this dish:
- Combine the pecans, minced shallot, melted butter, white wine, and lemon zest & juice in a bowl. Add salt and pepper to your taste. Mix everything together.
- Roll the fish fillets in the mixture.
- Prepare a large frying pan. Pour the peanut oil into the pan and place it over medium-high heat.
- Place the fillets into the skillet and fry each side for 3-4 minutes. Ready fish will be golden brown.
- Serve the fish with a sauce of your choice, e.g. a butter dipping sauce.
In the end, muskie fish is indeed edible, but do remember about its high mercury levels and do not consume it more than once per month. Women who want to have children and children should avoid muskie fish altogether. Muskie can be a decent dish to have every once in a while, but definitely not as a primary fish dish.
When angling for muskie fish, do keep in mind local regulations and be sure to follow them to avoid problems with the law.
And finally, remember that muskie fish has a great alternative, which is pike. Pike is a little safer than muskie fish, though this depends on the area you live in. In addition, in some areas, you can catch many more pikes than muskie fish.