Which is Better, Fresh or Frozen Fish?

by updated 2009/12/13

Here is a poster image of several different fish species. For at least 25 years I have been saying that 90% of the time frozen is a better choice.  The reason is that most “fresh” fish people eat, whether from the grocery store or in a restaurant, is several days old.  The quality of fish deteriorates quickly and unless it is eaten within a couple of days of the catch, there is a noticeable difference in texture and taste.  I used to fish the Pacific a lot and unless it was to be eaten within a day or two, I always froze what I caught.  Well prepared, fresh frozen, fish is virtually indistinguishable from fish eaten the day it is caught.  This assertion gets challanged from those who insist that unfrozen fish, even if it is several days old, tastes better than fish that has been frozen.  I knew someone who gave away anything he caught unless he was going to eat it that day because he felt that even refrigerating it overnight ruined it.  Setting aside discussion of taste, and for reasons unrelated to quality, frozen fish is getting some new advocates.

Yesterday I was sent a link to an article on why we should usually eat frozen, rather than fresh fish.  The same piece has been published this week in The New York Times, The Malaysian Insider, and reprinted on websites around the world.  These articles are all based on collaborated research done by scientists in Sweden, Nova Scotia, and Oregon.  In summary, it is the idea of food miles and mode of transport that has been around for years, this time applied to fish.  The arguments about food miles and type of transport is one that may never be resolved.  I have written a few times about that issue and always get comments from people on both sides of the argument.  One person said “there is no real evidence that the energy used by one method of transporting our food versus another makes any difference on carbon emissions”.   Another said “anyone who believes that flying apples from South America to Chicago uses the same or less energy as trucking apples from Washington state to Chicago is delusional”.  The truth is somewhere in between and really gets hard to know when you start to account for how much energy is required to actually manufacture a plane, as opposed to a cargo ship, energy used in maintenance, type of fuel consumed by the transport, etc.

The one big thing this fresh or frozen debate ignores is the effect of industrial scale fishing on the fish stocks of our oceans.  For example, Bluefin Tuna and Red Rockfish are in real danger of being wiped out by our appetite for seafood.  Sustainable fishing methods are necessary and fish farming has to be made healthier for the environment and consumers, if the world is to be able to continue eating fish as we do now.

Will Sig
1 The Right Blue

Nice article, Will. We love to eat fish, and we eat only fresh fish — but we have the advantage of living just 3 miles from a small fishing port in Hawaii, so we get to purchase our fish straight off the boats from individual fishermen or from the small market down the road that buys the catch of local independent fishermen.

We glad you mentioned sustainable fisheries — a very important issue.
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2 Mitch

It is always advisable to go with the fresh ones as these are safer to consume. Japanese people are said to have the longest life span this is being linked to what they eat. They eat a lot of fresh and raw food. We could probably try this too to enjoy the same benefits it will make to our bodies.
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3 Healthier Living

Fresh fish is better than frozen if you cooked it as soon as possible and these will give you more nutrition.
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4 Anna

Will I will tell you, fresh fish tastes the best, and I have experienced on my honeymoon in Greece, when we had red snapper ‘being dead only for few hours’, just BBQed and nothing on it, just fresh lemon from the tree – will never forget that. Anna :)
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5 Yael

I love fresh fish and am almost never inclined to buy frozen. However, I am fairly near the water and am able to get fresh caught fish readily.

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6 Yael

I love fresh fish and am almost never inclined to buy frozen. However, I am fairly near the water and am able to get fresh caught fish readily.

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7 MJ

I always wanted to know this. I love your blog. It is full of intresting information. I like to eat fish deep-fried :)
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8 Anne Vis

What about not eating fish at all … let them swim freely …

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9 solarglobalgreen

Here in St. Petersburg, FL most of the fish we eat is really fresh. There is really no comparison taste wise between fresh fish and frozen. Fresh wins hands down.

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10 Will

I have found out that much of the frozen fish available at retail is frozen several days after being caught. The key to having frozen approach the goodness of fresh is to process and freeze it immediately after catching. Once it has been refrigerated a day or two, it no longer tastes like it does the day it is caught.

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11 BobF

If I will be given a chance, I will prefer eating it after catching it. I like it fresh but of course to be realistic, its seems impossible right now in this time to each such kind of freshly caught fish. By the way, does the nutritional value of the fish change when freeze?
.-= Bob´s last blog ..Emmanuel Bagual Bagong Bayaning Pinoy =-.

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12 Find Your Solution

According to my view when fisherman catch fish, on that time fish is fresh.then it put into the freeze but there it is not long time fresh, it is fresh only for few hours. I am fairly near the water and am able to get fresh caught fish readily.
.-= Find Your Solution´s last blog .. =-.

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13 Hobo Bags

Wow thanks! That is so helpful. I admit I haven’t made sushi at home since moving back to Vancouver we are so blessed with affordable quality raw fish at every turn that it seems silly to try and replicate it at home – but you have given me new confidence.. and maybe come salmon season I will try this!

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14 Hajile

Nowadays, I have not been eating fresh fish directly from water. Fish usually comes today in can without a head. :(
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15 Caspien

I think it doesn’t matter if it is frozen or not. What is important is how it was cooked or served on the table. Of course, fresh fish will taste much different.
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16 Anonymous

Great post! A frozen fish dinner is usually flash-frozen on the spot, so the likelihood of spoiled frozen fish is slim-to-none. On the other hand, many food poisoning scenarios are spawned by serving rotten fish.

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