Barramundi is a freshwater fish species found in tropical and semitropical regions ranging from the Persian Gulf to China, and found as far south as Australia, as well as north to India. In Australia, it is both wild-caught and farmed for export to the global market as a table fish, and some recreational fishermen enjoy its pursuit as well. Barramundi has been popularized for human consumption because it has been viewed as a sustainable fish, with strong stocks, a healthy habitat, and careful stewardship all contributing to its longevity as a species. The fish is widespread and shows no signs of being at risk.
These fish can get quite large, weighing up to 132 pounds (60 kilograms), and they are very strong. The barramundi has a concave forehead, pointed head, and a large jaw, with large scales. Underneath, the fish is silvery, while on top, it is green to gray, providing camouflage for most river environments. It is carnivorous, eating small fish and insects, and has a dense dry white flesh which is normally enjoyed grilled and sauteed.
Depending upon where the fish has been harvested and what it has been eating, sometimes the flesh of the barramundi is not as appetizing. For this reason, much of that exported for human consumption is farmed so that the fish can be fed a controlled diet and purged before sale to prevent unpleasant flavors from saturating the flesh. Farming the fish is viewed to be more sustainable because stocks can be carefully monitored for overall health.
Barramundi are hermaphroditic, beginning life as male and transitioning to female at approximately five years of age. Males tend to be smaller because of their younger age. Females lay numerous eggs that will hatch within 20 hours, producing larva which grow rapidly into mature fish. The species is also catadromous, meaning that it matures in freshwater and moves to inter-tidal zones to spawn.
It is sought after as a sport fish because of its large size, flavor, and strength. Many Australian tourist companies offer barramundi fishing trips where anglers can either cast or troll for their prey. As with most sport fish, barramundi is usually caught and released, although there are no restrictions on taking the fish for consumption as well.
When available in the store, barramundi is an excellent choice for conservation conscious consumers, and also tends to be lower in mercury than some fish species. For this reason, it is recommended by many health and marine conservation organizations and is becoming much more popular in other parts of the world.