Filleting Sturgeon

There are probably about as many methods of cleaning fish as there are fisherpersons. However since these fish do no have a boney skeleton and do have sharp bony schutes on their sides and top of the back, they do present a few additional problems. For the newbie, the process of cleaning these fish can be intimidating.

One of the old methods was to tie it up by the tail, slit the skin down the belly and with pliers pull the skin off as some do a catfish.

The fish shown below was a 43 1/2″ White Sturgeon taken from the Columbia River the last day of April 2007.

Illustrated below is the way the commercial processors handle the situation. Most fishermen know how to fillet fish, this is just 3 extra preparatory procedures that allow you to fillet a sturgeon as you would a salmon. Most important is to have a sharp knife that is slightly sturdier than the expensive fillet knives. Shown here is the cheapo Danielson that has a combo blood spoon attached.

Using this method you do not gut the fish.

The sharp schutes are only attached to the skin, so they cut off easily but the skin is tough so you have to use a bit of force. It is usually best to start at the tail and then cut forward. The reason for taking the ones off the back are so you can fillet down closer to the back centerline getting more meat. The reason for taking off the side ones are that later when you flop the carcass on it’s side to separate the meat from the skin, that you can get a closer contact to the table and leave a neater piece of meat with minimal wastage as compared to when having the carcass on the the table and the knife having to jump over the schutes as you remove the skin.


Here the side schutes are removed showing the front 4 still attached to the skin, with the removed ones laying there.

Here the ones on  the back are also removed, & with them shown still attached to each other on the table.


Next you can start cutting the skin behind the bony gill cover until you hit the centerline. Now cut down the centerline of the back and usually starting from the head is best. You now need to fillet down until you hit the rib bones and then down to the belly. You may have to conscientiously try to cut far enough down to get the the approximate center of the fish or you may well leave some belly meat on the carcass. When you get to the tail section not cut the meat or skin off at the tail but leave it attached to the carcass.



Now flop the skin side down on your cleaning table, then with your filleting knife hold onto the body at the tail, starting at the tail, cut in until you just touch the skin. Now holding the knife so the blade is pointing down slightly against the table, push with your knife and pull with your free hand. Wriggle the knife slightly as you push it and while pulling the carcass, until the meat is separated from the skin. Repeat for the other side. With a little practice, you can do this in a relatively short period of time and have just the meat ready for the many ways of preparing it for a enjoyable meal.



Here one side is cut all the way to the belly

This is the standard filleting, shown with the last 1″ not cut off yet


Below is the results of this endeavor. There needs to be some slight trimming of this red fatty meat off yet.


Here the 2 fillets ready to process for the freezer or cook & enjoy.



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