Tripletail (Lobotes surinamensis) is a lazy, mostly coastal pelagic few recognize as one of the tastiest fish in the sea. Lazy because it exerts minimal energy floating motionless on its side mimicking a variety of flotsam in order to turn young crabs, shrimp, and fish into a meal. It’s categorized as pelagic because it inhabits tropical and subtropical waters of the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico, Indian and western Pacific oceans as well the Mediterranean.
Tripletail, so named because its dorsal and anal fins are located in close proximity to its real tail, is one of the least researched and most intriguing marine species. To date, biologists must kill and autopsy each individual specimen simply to determine whether it’s a male or female. In Spanish Tripletail are known as Berrugato, Biajaca de la Mar, and Tres Colitas. The French call them Chobie or Croupia.
Tripletail are considered of “least concern” by the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, in great part because it is a non-schooling fish described as “not abundant” and lacking significant commercial fisheries. The IUCN Red List does make a passing mention that a watchful regulatory eye should be cast on the potential to overfish Tripletail stocks due to its attraction to recreational anglers. Confidence in the Red List description of the state of Tripletail stocks worldwide is not high due to the paucity of scientific data on this specie.
The area of greatest popularity of Tripletail tends to be among anglers fishing the inshore waters of the southern U.S. from Georgia around the Florida coastline, from the Atlantic along the Gulf of Mexico to Texas. There, fishermen spend their days guiding small craft boats around crab pot buoys, pier pilings, and drifts of sargassum mats searching for one or two fish that local Sporting magazine articles headline as the best tasting inshore fish in Florida, if not the nation. The initiated say a meal of Tripletail exceeds that of grouper, snapper, and even the highly regarded Florida Pompano.
Tripletail’s thick, flaky, flavorful flesh is the highly sought reward for recreational fishermen and women who spend hours seeking it out as well as having developed the required skills to land even a single fish. They are known to escape by entangling fishing line around barnacle covered pilings and other floating debris.
Few seafood aficionados beyond those living near its habitat have ever heard of, much less experienced the culinary delight of Tripletail. That fact, as well as the species’ solitary life requiring long hours and relatively high fuel expenditures in pursuit of barely a handful of fish, dictates against a dedicated, large scale commercial fishery.
That limited popularity of Tripletail among anglers and marine biologists alike who find its unique life style both challenging and fascinating may be coming to an end given the widespread reach of social media and the increasing wealth of diners as well as the world’s top chefs seeking new seafood fare for their menus.