The Aquaponic Harvest: Fish Filleting

Unlike the lettuces, strawberries, and vegetables you can grow in an aquaponics system, fish aren’t something you just pick and eat. There’s some serious prep work to be done here before your freshly harvested home-grown food hits the skillet.

Fishing may be a hugely popular sport, but not everyone has been involved in it. If you’re gonna fish, you’re going to learn how to clean your catch and fillet it. Additionally, not all fish are filleted the same way. Some can easily be de-boned, and others… well you simply have to deal with them as you enjoy your dinner. Why? They may all be fish, but their bone structure and heft varies somewhat. (Yes, there are die-hard fishermen in my family.)

Aquaponic gardeners often choose Tilapia as the fish to grow, but not always. A number of other fish do well in an enclosed system, which are particularly of interest to people in colder climates and those who just don’t prefer the taste of the more commonly grown Tilapia.

The first thing you simply must have is an super sharp knife. You will also want one with a longer blade, though most fish grown in captivity won’t reach a size that you’ll need a blade as long as those sports fishers would use. A dull knife will tear up your fillet – so if that’s all you’ve got, count on a hack job on your fillets. If the knife is too short, you’ll not be able to make smooth cuts either, and skinning the fillets will be impossible. Find a really good filleting knife if you’re going to grow fish for food, and don’t use it for cutting anything else. Get a honing stone too, because you will want to sharpen your knife very regularly so it glides through skin and meat every time you need to fillet your harvest.

One more thing to mention is that you’ll be harvesting your fish before they reach colossal proportions, so your fillets will be on the thin side. It’s just one more reason that you really must have an excellent knife. The alternative will not give you an efficient method for getting the most out of the food you’ve grown. You will have a lot of unnecessary waste using the wrong knife.

So here’s some visual how-to fillet Tilapia vids. This first one though, the guy needs to learn a couple tricks. He’s a little wet behind the gills still, though he’s not really doing anything wrong, his process could be faster and easier.



And here we’ve got a seasoned fisherman who is also growing Tilapia at home. Notice the one thing he doesn’t do, and the extra step he does that the inexperience guy in the first video knows nothing about…



Did you catch what makes this second guy’s method of filleting Tilapia better?

  1. Removing the fillets completely from the carcass. This makes skinning the fillet more manageable.
  2. He didn’t gut the fish. They’re enclosed in the rib cage. Why waste time and make more mess than necessary?

Best Way to Preserve Fish?

Freezing it, naturally. If you’re going to keep it for long-term storage though, you will either want to invest in a vacuums¬†sealer appliance that removes all air from inside the packaging, or add enough water to your freezer food storage bag to cover the meat. The least expensive choice is the standard freezer bags and water method. Don’t try using regular food storage zip-lock bags, unless you like freezer-burned meat. The later will work fine if you’re only keeping the fish in the freezer for a couple of weeks. The vacuum sealer is the ultimate choice here, because it will keep your fish harvest in excellent condition in the freezer for years.

Image courtesy of castironidaho.com.

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Tammy Clayton

Contributing Writer at Garden Culture Magazine

Tammy has been immersed in the world of plants and growing since her first job as an assistant weeder at the tender age of 8. Heavily influenced by a former life as a landscape designer and nursery owner, she swears good looking plants follow her home.