How does wild-caught seafood make it to your plate?

The question comes up often: Fresh seafood is better than frozen, right? Not exactly. Over the next few weeks we’re going to highlight the main things you should think about when purchasing seafood: quality, nutrition, and the supply chain.

The quality of your seafood starts on the boat. Skip this first step, and the remaining steps in the supply chain don’t really matter.

All seafood, whether fin fish (salmon, tuna, cod, halibut) or shellfish (shrimp, crab, lobster) require careful handling to preserve quality.

So let’s get started.

Wild-caught fish are caught a variety of ways. Pole caught, seine nets, trawlers, and gill nets are all common practice. No matter what the method, after harvest, fin fish need to be bled immediately. Bleeding a fish after harvest reduces lactic acid build up in the muscle (the fillet) which in turn preserves the firm texture and reduces any off-taste these naturally occurring chemicals can leave in the fillet. Not every fisherman takes this step. Bleeding fish takes time; time that can be spent catching more fish. In a volume driven world, fishermen often skip this step.

Our owner, Thomas, standing in the empty ice holds of a fishing boat. Once they are cleaned, the holds will be reloaded with ice and head back out to the ocean.

Next, the fish must be iced. The fin fish we carry are “cold- water” fish, but the temperature needs to be even lower. At harvest, most cold water fish have an average body temperature of 55 degrees. We need to get that into the mid to upper 30s as fast as possible. On a fishing boat, we do this by creating a mixture of salt water and ice. Icing the fish in this slush ice mix preserves the firm texture and most importantly begins preserving the nutrients.

When an animal is harvested or a vegetable is picked, it’s at its peak nutrient level. Every minute after, nutrients begin to decline through the natural process of decomposition. By lowering the temperature as fast as possible, we slow the decomposition and decline of the nutrient content. Ice on a boat costs money and adds weight to the boat, both of which inhibit the fisherman’s bottom line. Skipping the ice can save a few cents per pound and leave room for more fish in the hull, which can, but doing so comes at the sacrifice of quality. We pay more so that our fishermen can afford to earn a living and provide the highest quality product.

We’ll pick up next week in part 2 when we address “fresh vs frozen.”

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