Seafood Handling and Storage

Follow these guidelines to ensure your seafood remains as premium quality as the day we caught it!

Any fish that comes above 4 degrees Celsius will soon begin to develop that tell-tale “fishy” smell or taste. In the past and still today in large-scale industrial fishing, fish can be left lying on the deck of a boat in the sun for hours or even days. And the lengthy industrial seafood supply chain has countless opportunities for seafood to sit on a loading dock or lay about at a fish auction warming up and losing quality. And wholesalers, retailers, chefs, and consumers have no way of knowing if the cold chain remained in tact! After seafood has warmed up somewhere along the supply chain, it doesn’t matter what you do with it, it will never be premium quality!

Small-scale fishermen like those of us at Skipper Otto’s hand pick every fish out of our nets or off our hooks the moment it comes out of the sea. We then individually slide each fish into a slurry of flaked sea ice and sea water or flash freeze the fish immediately at sea. We transport our seafood carefully in refrigerator trucks to our processor, and transport it directly in freezer trucks to our cold storage. So we feel confident that our seafood has remained cold, ensuring optimal quality by the time it gets to you.

When you pick up your seafood, whether it is fresh from the Fishermen’s Wharf in Vancouver, frozen from a Community Distribution Partner, or delivered to your door in some of our locations, you need to ensure it never comes above 4 degrees Celsius to really enjoy the incredible quality of the very best seafood. Read on for some more guidelines about handling and thawing frozen seafood to ensure its premium quality!

In the past, frozen fish had a bad reputation. Sometimes it was mushy, dry, flavourless, or worse, “fishy” tasting. It’s not surprising, then, that a lot of people raised on bad frozen fish are cautious about buying frozen seafood today.

But freezing technology and fish handling have come a long way and, in fact, good quality frozen fish is better than a lot of the fresh fish out there. Did you know that very piece of sushi you’ve ever had in a restaurant had to be frozen before it could be served? (Read more below under “Can I Eat This Raw?”) So, some of the most premium quality seafood in the world was once frozen.

So called “fresh fish” on the market can mean a lot of different things. Often it was previously frozen and sold as “refresh,” meaning it was carefully thawed. Seafood in the industrial system can be on boats, at auctions, waiting to be processed, shipped, for days or weeks before it gets to your home. So, often, seafood that was frozen at sea or flash frozen immediately after it was landed is far superior in quality to “fresh” fish in the stores. This Food Republic blog post goes into even more detail about the complexity of what makes “fresh” fish so confusing! And we wrote a blog post about the great fresh vs frozen debate as well. Don’t be deceived into thinking the shrink wrapped fresh fillets in the grocery store are superior to what you might find in the freezer case.

Browse through some of the other questions on this page to arm yourself with knowledge about fresh and frozen seafood and you’ll never eat a bad piece of fish again!

Professionally sealed and flash frozen fillets or whole fish will last longer than those initially frozen in a residential freezer. So, if you are planning to keep your fish for anything over 3 months, you will have higher quality frozen products if you take our professionally flash frozen fillets and whole fish rather than freezing your own.

Standard freezer storage guidelines are all about keeping fish at it’s very highest quality, not about food safety. Keep in mind that fish will still be safe to eat and good quality for a much longer time than general freezer storage guidelines indicate. It just might begin to get dry or loose some of its flavour beyond recommended storage times.

As a general rule, fish stored in a residential freezer will be at its best if eaten within 3-9 months. Fish kept in professional cold storage maintains its optimal quality much longer. Industry standard is to store fish for 2 years or more in cold storage! But of course, Skipper Otto’s seafood is always from the most recent season and less than a year old.

Frozen Salmon Storage

Sockeye salmon retains its quality longest in the freezer. Its firm, oily flesh stands up very well to freezing. This is one reason sockeye is usually one of the highest priced salmon species and grocery stores are often selling sockeye that is several years old. In your home freezer, professionally frozen sockeye salmon fillets with their seals in-tact will have no noticeable decrease in quality for at least 9 months.

Coho salmon is very similar to sockeye. Try to use it within 9 months of moving to a home freezer for top quality.

Spring salmon are a little more delicate than sockeye and should be used little more quickly. Try to use them within 8 months of placing in your home freezer for optimal quality.

Chum salmon have a higher oil content than pinks but lower than sockeye. They may begin to become dry and lose flavour after 6 months in your home freezer.

Pink salmon is the most delicate of the salmon species. After about 3 months in your home freezer, you may begin to notice they are more dry and less flavourful.

When fish are professionally frozen, they are either vacuum sealed or “glazed.”

In the vacuum sealing process, air is removed and the bag is sealed so that the fish will not come into contact with the air. This prevents the fish from drying out or becoming “freezer burnt.” You can tell when a bag has lost its seal because the fish will move around freely within the bag. Over time, ice crystals will form inside the bag. Eventually the fish will also begin to take on a grey-ish colour. Fish which has a lot of ice crystals and a grey-ish colour will develop a bad taste! It is usually still food safe, but we consider it not worth eating. If we find fish that looks like this in the bottom of our home freezer, we sometimes try to rescue it with a good recipe, but we usually offer some to the cat (who sometimes turns his nose up at it!) or dig it into the garden as fertilizer.

Sometimes vacuum seals break. Our processors work hard to try to ensure the seals will last a long time, but if vacuum sealed fillets are handled roughly, eventually the seal will give way. When we pack your orders, we inspect every piece of fish to ensure the seal is intact. Fillets with recently broken seals are donated to charity. If you ever receive a fillet from us and the seal is broken when you receive it, please let us know and we’ll do what we can to make it right! Handle your fillets carefully — never toss them around in the freezer or allow heavy objects to move around on them. Inspect your frozen fillets regularly to check for broken seals and, if you find a piece with a recently broken seal, eat it as soon as possible. If you notice a piece of fish with a broken seal at the bottom of your freezer months after you received it and it has become badly freezer burned, you can try to rescue it with a good recipe like our whisky marinade rescue, or you can discard it. Unfortunately, we can’t issue refunds on filets whose seals break after you receive them.

In the glazing process, whole fish are flash frozen for a short time, then dipped in a sub-zero sea-water bath, and then fully flash frozen. This fine layer of frozen sea water on the outside of the whole fish acts just like the vacuum seal bag, sealing the fish from coming into contact with air and preventing freezer burn. If you order whole flash frozen fish from us, it will come in a loose plastic bag, but this is only to make handling it more tidy, not to preserve the quality of the fish.

We put a lot of care and attention into ensuring that every piece of seafood you receive is absolutely premium quality. But if you thaw it improperly, you’ll jeopardize that quality and, potentially, your health! Read our blog posts on How to Safely Thaw Seafood and Thawing Frozen Shrimp to make sure you are thawing to preserve the premium quality that we love!

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One of the amazing things about a lot of wild pacific seafood is that it can be perfectly safe and delicious to eat raw! But some fish can become infected with parasites and so the only way to ensure that any seafood is safe to eat raw is to freeze it. Read our blog post on the topic to learn all about what makes fish safe to eat raw!

Excited to pick up your live spot prawns, but a bit terrified about what to do with them? No problem! Handling and processing spot prawns is actually quite simple.

Check out our blog post all about how to handle live prawns!