Sweet, a fish question. Basically the only thing I’m good for.
I’ve never had cobia, but by all accounts they’re great eating. They’re found pretty much worldwide in tropical and subtropical waters – the only exception is the Eastern Pacific, where it’s strangely not present.
Some farmed fish did escape into the wild, (thousands, actually) but concerns that they would ever reach anywhere near here are unfounded in my opinion (and Milton Love is one of my personal heroes.) Our waters are much too cold for them. Similar aquatic climates near the cobia’s native range don’t get cobia, except as very rare one-off catches. Given that two years have passed and I haven’t heard anything more about cobia being caught in Central American Pacific waters yet, it seems like the concern in 2016 that they’d establish themselves here and do eco damage hasn’t come to fruition yet.
To me, it’s not dissimilar to the tarpon, which reached the Pacific through the Panama Canal. Some tarpon are caught in Panama and Costa Rica. But they’re not taking over. Why? Because every fish has different demands for what makes it want to breed.
All fish have a natural range and certain environmental demands for breeding. Given that fish have tails, and many fish larvae are pelagic, and weather patters bring anomalous water conditions to every locale, it stands to reason that pretty much every fish will appear in odd places from time to time. We get a lot of these exotic fish during El Nino events. But generally speaking, when exotic fish take up residence at the extreme end of their range, they don’t establish a population because they don’t breed there. The water conditions aren’t to their liking. You find sheephead wrasse in abundance in central California, for example, but the fish North of San Simeon do not breed.
Some fish can be taken to new environment and breed, like the striped bass (which was intentionally introduced to the west coast in the 19th century when 100 fish were taken here by the new cross country railroad) which seemingly only wants temperate ocean and fresh water outlets to breed. Or the lionfish which is damaging to the ecosystem in the Caribbean. Or the snapper and peacock grouper introduced to Hawai’i which are considered invasives (although they’ve seemed to have settled into a better balance than the lionfish.)
But the tarpon has been present in the Pacific since the canal was built, and still the fish caught in the Pacific (we think) are simply fish that made the journey themselves. They haven’t established a breeding population in the Pacific, so there’s no risk that they’ll create a population sufficient to create any kind of threat.
I suspect only time will tell if the cobia can breed in the East Pacific. If it does, however, I don’t see it reaching our waters in all but the most anomalously warm water years, and I don’t see it creating the kind of devastation the lionfish did, because it’s not armed with anything that would make it an unusually strong competitor (the lionfish has giant, venemous spines that make it hard for anything to prey on it – although the Caribbean fauna is slowly figuring out how to kill them, amazing how nature seems to find balance on its own.) So if it did establish a breeding population here but wasn’t over-competitive, that might only mean there’s a new, fun, tasty fish to catch without much drawback. Sort of like what we got with striped bass.
Here’s the most recent article I found discussing it: http://www.reabic.net/journals/mbi/2018/3/MBI_2018_Castellanos-Galindo_etal.pdf
According to that article, fish with mature gonads have been caught in the Eastern Pacific, and fish have been caught as far as 600 miles from the release site in Ecuador. However, I can’t help but think of the 400,000 Atlantic Salmon accidentally released in Puget Sound, which bred for a year or two then stopped cold. Or the extreme efforts we put into establishing Coho Salmon in the Sac river, which again resulted in limited spawning at first, followed by failure.
So yeah, we won’t know until we know, and there’s always concern about environmental upset when a species is introduced, but generally the ones that cause most damage are ones that have some kind of hyper-competitive advantage, and the cobia really doesn’t have seem to have any. Even when you look at most fish that man introduces to a new locale that do take up residence and breed, remarkably few of them have devastating or even significantly detrimental consequences.
If it was fresh enough, I’d buy it to try it. I’ve always been curious how they taste. To answer attran’s question, I’ve never seen it for sale. I don’t think it has the name recognition here that it does on the east coast, so I suspect they’re not able to fetch a high enough price for it to cover shipping it here. It is being farmed more and more, though, so that may change.