With the Atlantic Ocean on our doorstep, fresh local seafood is within reach year round – whether you catch it or someone else does.

Depending on the weather, tuna and wahoo are most abundant in spring and fall, but they grace tables at other times. Red hind – limited to 10 per day for recreational fishermen – is usually more abundant from May through August, while delicious red and lane snappers are caught year-round, depending on the fisherman’s skill.

The sweet-tasting lionfish with its semifirm texture is becoming the fillet of choice among environmentally savvy chefs and foodies. This recently arrived invasive species, which has the potential to decimate Bermuda’s fish population, has been the focus of educational lectures, tournaments and “eat ’em to beat ’em” fry-ups. Conservationists have deemed it the eco-fish of choice, because the more caught the better.

Other seasonal seafood treats include spiny lobsters and the smaller-male-guinea-chick lobsters, which may only be taken from September 1 through March 31. To have local lobsters in the freezer after the season has ended is against the law.

Local lobsters cost between $25 and $30 apiece and are mainly available from registered commercial fishermen, who must be licensed to sell to the public. Only some of the 330 professional fishermen are allowed to sell this way. It is an offense to buy fish or lobster from anyone else.

Fresh local fish is usually priced between $12 and $17 per pound. It is available in grocery stores or straight from fishermen. Friday is one of the busiest days for dock- and roadside vendors. Department of Health regulations are enforced with regular checks to insure that proper temperatures are maintained.

Making the Best Selection
Fish should smell sweet, as if it has just been pulled from the ocean. If possible, give it a whiff. If it smells fishy, do not buy it since it is past its prime. When buying a whole fish, look into its eyes: they should be clear and bright. The flesh should be firm. Fish fillets and steaks should be firm and bright looking, with no discoloration or brown spots in the white flesh.
Fresh fish is highly perishable, particularly in Bermuda’s warm climate. It should be stored in the fridge for no longer than a day or two. Any longer and it is best to wrap it in parchment paper, put it in a sealed plastic bag and freeze it until there is time to cook it.

Health Benefits
Both fish and lobster contain high amounts of vitamins B12 and B6 and beneficial omega-3 essential fatty acids. The combination of low saturated fat and high protein in fish makes it popular with health-conscious eaters. Dipping lobster in a favourite local sauce of drawn butter and sherry may not be the wisest choice for those on a heart-healthy diet, but it is sumptuous. Consult your healthcare provider for dietary recommendations.

Licenses
While leisure fishing licenses are not required, recreational lobster divers must have permits to catch spiny lobsters with nooses in designated areas. These cost $125 per season. Applications are available from the Ministry of Environmental Protection office in the Botanical Gardens along with details on how and where the lobsters may be caught. The daily limit is two; the minimum carapace length is 3 5/8 inches or 92 mm, and reporting catches is required. Spear fishing also requires a licence and a separate $125 fee. As with lobster diving, no SCUBA gear may be used.
Fisheries wardens and the marine police work in tandem and regularly patrol waters around the island. To avoid confusion, the Department of Environmental Protection provides recreational fishermen with free stickers featuring fishing regulations and measures in inches and centimeters.
Government fisheries regulations, designed to protect and sustain marine life, were first introduced in the mid-1950s to promote sustainability of the spiny lobster. So that future generations may enjoy the fruits of the sea, the fisheries division of the Department of Environmental Protection continually monitors catches of commercial fishermen and recreational lobster divers. Environmental stewardship is paramount, and the catch-and-release practice is growing among savvy sport fishermen who respect the environment and want to preserve it for future generations.

Cooking Fillets
Hungry cooks frequently select fish fillets or steaks because they take such a short time to reach flavourful perfection, but roasting a whole fish in a 400-degree oven or over the grill takes just a while longer, provides richer rewards in the flavour department and always produces moist flesh. The challenge with fillets and steaks is to prevent overcooking, and this can be avoided by removing them from the heat before the center appears to be ready. The flesh will continue to cook off the heat. It is easy to return the fish for a few seconds of further cooking, if necessary, but there is no hiding the tough, chewy texture of an overdone piece of fish except, perhaps, with a sauce.
Before cooking, I usually season fish steaks or fillets with a sprinkling of lemon juice, salt and pepper. To prevent the fish from sticking, I lightly brush the grill surface or saute pan with regular olive oil – not the expensive extra-virgin variety, which is best drizzled over the cooked fish to finish.
Marinating snapper or other white-fleshed fish fillets adds flavour and moisture, but make this brief – about 15 minutes or less if they are thin. When fish flesh sits for more than a half hour in an acidic marinade, the delicate protein breaks down and the result is mushy fish after it is cooked. Richer, dense tuna steaks take less than 30 minutes to marinate, depending on their thickness.
Marinades include oil (extra-virgin olive oil provides the best flavour), an acidic ingredient such as lemon juice, white-wine vinegar or chopped tomatoes, and salt and pepper. Other seasonings can range from freshly minced thyme and parsley to chopped hot peppers and red-pepper flakes. You may also opt to simply use your favourite vinaigrette; just don’t use the same one for the salad or there will be no contrasting flavours.

Roasted Whole Fish
This makes a delicious dinner and is easy to prepare. Each cook needs a one- to one-and-a-half-pound fish that has been cleaned and gutted. If you have a larger fish, just be sure it will feed the number of invited guests.
I usually roast fish in a 450-degree oven for about 15 minutes for individual fish weighing less than two pounds. If you don’t like looking at the fish eye, have the fisherman or butcher cut it off, but know that the tastiest of morsels – the fish cheek – will be forfeited.
Preheat the oven, wash and pat dry the fish, drizzle on some olive oil and season the cavity and both sides with chopped thyme, salt and pepper. Put it directly onto the roasting pan as the skin sticks to the pan, making it easier to extract just the cooked fish.
It is ready when it comes away easily from the bone. Drizzle on freshly squeezed lemon juice and serve alongside roasted vegetables that have been cooked in the same oven, or a salad.

Judith Wadson, author of Bermuda: Traditions and Tastes, teaches gluten-free cooking classes; contact jwadson54@gmail.com.