Safe Fish Handling

Preserving Quality of Fish in Transport

Remember to have enough ice on hand to keep your fish cool until getting home.Bring ice and a freezer store bag or insulated container to the pickup site.Fish handled for food should be landed quickly and stored on ice as soon as possible. The trick is to keep your fresh catch cooled quick. Don’t drive great distances from pickup location to home without icing. Temperatures in the summer heat up quickly in cars, and fish must be kept cool with ice.

Storage at Home

Pack your dressed fish on ice in refrigerator. Seal fillets or round fish plastic bags and cover with ice in trays or pans (empty meltwater regularly). Store in section of refrigerator closest to freezer unit. Fish stored for more than 2 to 5 days (dependent on species) should be frozen. Fattier fish will deteriorate faster than lean fish.

All fish must be prepared for freezing and storage. Fish should be filleted, drawn and gutted – then washed well. If freezing fish whole be sure all slime and internal blood is washed away from the body cavity.


To prepare for freezing wash the whole fish, fillets under cold running water before wrapping in freezer. Wrapping first in cling wrap and then placed into zip loc bags with air removed. Length of time for freezing depends on the condition of the fish at time of freezing, the fat content and your freezer temperature. Objective is to minimize surface of fish from any contact with air. Oxidation produces rancidity, and water loss causes freezer burn. Ideally if you have time, you can glaze your frozen fish – pack it the way you like first, then take the frozen fish and dip it in clean potable water. Doing this a few times will definitely prevent your fish from having contact with air. To ensure quick freezing either pack smaller packages or turn your freezer to its lowest setting. Packages you home freeze should be no more than a pound in weight. 


Defrosting fish is probably as critical to retention of flavor as freezing. If you don’t thaw properly flavor will suffer from bacteria and enzymes. Fish should be slow thawed in the refrigerator, but can also be quick thawed by running under cold water. Never thaw fish on the counter or under warm water. Thawing on the counter allows surface area to thaw faster than inner areas and bacteria will form and reproduce quickly. Plan ahead, it takes 12 t 15 hours in the refrigerator for fish to completely thaw in the refrigerator. Fish can also be cooked frozen by doubling the normal cooking time. Once fish are thawed they should be cooked immediately or placed in the refrigerator. Never leave thawed fish for longer than 2 days in the refrigerator, check for freshness by smell. If it smells fresh, has no pungent odor and doesn’t smell “fishy” it’s good. 

diagram of fish parts for reference

Prepping your Fish for Cooking

  • Remove the tail with a tail cut an inch from tail fin
  • Rinse gut cavity to remove blood, slime or viscera.
  • If cooking flat fish, remove head by making a cut behind the pectoral fin and pushing viscera out of the gut cavity
  • Fish with skin on should be scaled.

Scrape the fish from tail to head with dull side of knife. Scaling the fish underwater can be done to prevent scales from scattering.

Fillet the round fish

  • Place fish with back facing you, make single cut across fish behind pectoral fin.
  • Cut backbone of fish holding knife at an angle so you can feel it slide along the backbone
  • At open vent push knife through skin and continue cutting back to tail
  • With tail portion free fold filet over and cut free from ribs, fillet portion should have all edible muscle – repeat same procedure other side

Skinning the Fillet

  • Starting at tail, cut at twenty-degree angle to skin until you free enough skin to grip
  • Remove rib bones from belly portion and pin bones (the pin bones are located by passing finger along lateral line in head to tail direction) – pull skin back and forth against the blade, keeping knife parallel to skin

One response to “Safe Fish Handling

  1. Pingback: Transnational Summits and Local Throwdowns! | Cape Cod Community Supported Fisheries

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s