Purchasing Tips For Buying Fresh Seafood
The public fish sales float is provided for the benefit of the public and the fishers who sell their catch. Steveston Harbour Authority does not regulate prices or product quality in any way – all transactions are private dealings between the buyer and the seller. However, we have provided some tips below to help everyone make informed choices when purchasing fresh seafood at the sales float.
As a general rule, buy from a reliable vendor who keeps high standards of cleanliness and has a good knowledge of the product he or she is selling and how to handle it. Steveston Harbour Authority provides whiteboards to each vendor on the sales float on which they must display the following information:
- which vessel harvested the product
- when it was caught
- where it was caught
- the harvesting method (gillnet, troll, trawl, seine, dive, etc.)
- whether the product is fresh or frozen
If a vendor is not clearly and correctly displaying all of the above information on their whiteboard, we encourage you to buy from another vendor.If a vendor doesn’t have a whiteboard on display, we encourage you to ask them why not – it may just be that we haven’t yet had a chance to issue them one.
Only buy seafood that is displayed on ice and make sure you keep any purchases you make cold until you get home. Leaving seafood in a car on a hot day, for example, greatly speeds up spoilage and may make it unsafe to eat. Also, seafood should be placed in clean, non-permeable food-safe bags for transport (i.e. not in a regular green or black garbage bag). However, it is common for fishers to put their product in a food-safe bag first and then in a large garbage bag for added strength, so you may see people leaving the float with garbage bags full of product – this is fine so long as it has been placed in a food-safe bag first. For a complete list of rules governing sales on the public fish sales float, click here.
Fresh or Frozen?
In the fishing industry, the terms “fresh” and “frozen” can be slightly misleading. The term “fresh” generally means that the product has not been frozen since it was harvested from the ocean / river. The term “flash frozen at sea” or more commonly, “frozen,” means that the product was frozen within hours of it being harvested.
So, which is better?
Fresh: Most people are under the impression that “fresh” fish are always better than “frozen” fish. While it is certainly true that a fish that is cooked the same day as it was caught will have the best flavour and overall quality, be aware that calling a fish “fresh” simply means that the product has never been frozen and has instead been kept in a chilled state until it is sold. Typically, this involves keeping the fish in a slushy combination of ice and brine (salt water). This is perfectly fine if it is only for a few days, but the quality of the product will decrease with age. As a general rule, be wary of buying a “fresh” product more than a week old from date of harvest, though this does vary from species to species (the harvest date should be displayed on the whiteboard for each vendor).
Frozen: Most people are also under the somewhat mistaken impression that “frozen” fish is always inferior to “fresh” fish in terms of quality and taste. This is not always true – fish that have been commercially “flash frozen at sea” are frozen solid within hours of being harvested, preserving their flavour and quality. Fish that has been flash frozen at sea and stored in a proper commercial freezer or storage plant can remain very high quality for up to two years. However, keep in mind that “frozen” fish should be literally hard as ice and should show no signs of previous thawing. Also, when buying from a vendor that has frozen product, be sure to ask them if their vessel has a commercial freezer on board and, if not, where they had their fish frozen (there are several plants that offer commercial freezing services, and some fishers legitimately transport their product from cold storage facilities via truck or boat to the sales float and unload them on to their vessel for sale). Fishers selling frozen product out of a household deep freeze may only do so for convenience, and only if their vessel has a proper commercial freezer on board where the bulk of their product is stored.
In reality, the issue about product being “fresh” or “frozen” isn’t as important as most people think. When buying seafood, buyers should be far more concerned about the level of knowledge the vendor has about his or her products and the cleanliness of the vendor’s vessel and equipment.