Taking Care of Your Catch
Stephen F. Theberge Jr.
Florida Sea Grant Extension Agent
Sport-caught fish offer many nutritional benefits. Fish is a high quality, low-fat source of protein, often high in healthful omega-3 fatty acids. According to the Mayo Clinic website, some of the potential benefits of eating fish include a lower risk of death from cardiovascular disease, lower triglycerides, lower blood pressure, reduction in blood clotting, enhanced immune function, decrease in arthritic symptoms, and improvement in learning ability in children.
Get your catch on ice as soon as possible. Photo Credits: UF-IFAS photo
Fish are a valuable renewable resource that should not be wasted. Keep only what you can properly take care of and consume while it’s still in good condition. The decision on whether to keep or release a fish should be made as soon as possible after catching it, and then the fish should be handled appropriately. Taking the proper steps to handle a fish you’re keeping ensures a safe, high quality and delicious dining experience.
Make sure your fish is of legal size before gaffing and gaff near the head so as not to damage filets. Photo Credits: Photo courtesy NOAA
If you gaff a fish, try to gaff in the head or gills, not in the body, so you don’t damage the filets. Do not gaff a fish unless you are sure you are keeping it!
Minimize bruising when landing a fish. Land the fish on a padded surface. Stunning the fish with a blow to the head can reduce how much the fish struggles and bounces around once landed.
Wash the fish immediately with clean seawater to remove excess slime and bacteria.
Bleed the fish (especially important for oily fish such as mackerel or tuna) by cutting the gills or the throat of the fish next to the gills.
Gutting the fish can also help preserve quality longer.
Chill the fish quickly, especially during hot summertime temperatures. One effective method is to place the fish in a firm slush ice solution made by adding clean sea water to crushed ice. It should be firm enough so that it takes some force to bury the fish in the slush. Another method is to pack the fish in clean crushed ice. Fish packed in crushed ice should have three inches of ice on the bottom of the cooler and at least three inches of ice on top of the fish. You should have at least a pound of ice for every pound of fish.
After use, fish coolers should be washed with dish soap and then rinsed with fresh water mixed with a little bit of bleach. All fish handling areas and knives need to be cleaned, as well.Remember fish is best when eaten fresh or within a few months of being frozen, not when freezer burned from too much time in a freezer. Vacuum sealing or coating the fish with a brine solution can help prevent freezer burn. Follow these steps for a delicious and nutritious meal!