A Swelling Toad

A Swelling Toad

Author: Chesapeake Bay Magazine
Published: November 2, 2021

Have you ever been surprised when pulling your pots or nets to find some swelling toads, or shall we say pufferfish? These waterway gems are a seasonal delicacy, popping up on some high-end restaurants menus throughout the year.

“Northern pufferfish, often called “swelling toads,” “sugar toads” or “sea squab,” are one of the Chesapeake’s most intriguing fish. These 8- to 10-inch box-shaped fish with emerald green eyes range from Florida to Newfoundland and come into Chesapeake waters in the early spring as they prepare to spawn around hard structure in the shallows of the mid and lower Bay. Toads hang out in local waters until early to mid-November, when the temperature drops below 50 degrees. They feed on crustaceans and shellfish by crushing through the shells with their strong, beak-like teeth. Coarse skin, like heavy grit sandpaper, is the fish’s armor against predators, but when toads feel threatened, they will deploy their most distinctive defense—inflating themselves with water or air so that they are too large to eat whole. Watermen in the Chesapeake Bay target northern pufferfish, or swelling toads, by setting “toad pots” baited with crab scraps near oyster reefs, shipwrecks, and other underwater structures where the fish tend to congregate. Toad pots are similar to traditional hard crab pots, with a smaller wire mesh. Because swelling toads can eventually find their way out of a pot’s funnels, watermen must continually fish their pots throughout the day and without letting them “soak,” or sit for long periods of time. Once a toad pot is pulled to the surface, the startled creatures inflate themselves with air. Sometimes, a pot full of toads can even float on the surface. Sugar toads are also a bycatch for pound netters and haul seiners in the mid and lower Chesapeake. Recreational fishermen using bait such as peeler crabs or bloodworms will occasionally catch toads.”

Read more at ChesapeakeBayMagazine.com.

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