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How To Store Fish

Have you ever brought home a fresh catch or picked up a beautiful piece of fish from the market, only to find it doesn’t smell so great a few days later?

It’s all in the storage. Fish is delicious and nutritious, but it can be a little tricky to keep fresh. Not to worry, though – we’re here to help! So let’s dive right in, shall we?

Fresh tilapia fish on parchment paper with lemon and garlic on a blue background.

How to store fish

Fish needs to be stored carefully to keep it fresh. If you’re planning on eating your fish within a couple of days, the fridge is your best bet.

Here’s a nifty trick: put the fish in a sealable plastic bag, then place the bag on a bed of ice in a bowl. The ice keeps the fish super cold, and the bowl catches any drips!

How to store fish in the refrigerator

The million-dollar question! Usually, refrigerated fresh fish should be cooked within one to two days.

Storing fish in the fridge can be easy with the right steps. First, rinse your fish under cold water and pat it dry with paper towels.

Then, place it in a sealable plastic bag and set this on a bed of ice in a shallow dish or bowl. The ice helps maintain a cold temperature, which is ideal for fish.

Plan to use your refrigerated fish within one to two days for the best taste and safety.

How to properly freeze fresh fish

Freezing fish is like a time machine for freshness. If you don’t plan on cooking your fish within a couple of days, just pop it in the freezer! Here are the steps to properly freeze your fish:

  1. Rinse your fish under cold water.
  2. Pat it dry with paper towels.
  3. Wrap it tightly in plastic wrap, then in aluminum foil or a freezer bag.
  4. Freeze it right away.

Learn more on how to store salmon or how to store shrimp as they require different treatments to keep them fresh.

Storage MethodShelf LifeTips
Freshly Caught Fish1-2 days on iceStore the fish on ice in a cooler or bucket. Change the ice every 2-3 hours to keep the fish cold.
Refrigerated Fish1-2 daysStore the fish in the coldest part of the refrigerator, on a plate, or in a shallow container. Wrap the fish tightly in plastic wrap or aluminum foil to prevent it from drying out.
Frozen Fish3-6 monthsFreeze the fish in an airtight container or freezer bag. Be sure to label the container with the date so you know how long it has been frozen.

What to look for when buying fresh fish and shellfish

Before you can effectively store fish, you need to buy it. The fresher it is, the longer it’ll last, and the better it’ll taste! Here’s a list of common types of fish and shellfish, and what to look for when you’re buying them:

Salmon: The flesh should be shiny and spring back when touched. It should range in color from light pink to bright red, depending on the species. Here is how to tell if salmon is bad.

Trout: Look for bright, clear eyes and firm flesh. If it’s rainbow trout, you should see an array of colors along the sides.

Tuna: Fresh tuna should be bright red or pink, and the flesh should be firm to the touch. It should also have a fresh, ocean-like smell. Find out how to properly store tuna as well.

Cod: The flesh should be white or cream-colored, and it should look moist. As with other fish, the eyes should be clear, not cloudy.

Halibut: Halibut flesh should be almost translucent and should look glossy. The surface should be moist, not dried out.

Mackerel: Look for shiny, metallic skin. The flesh should feel firm and spring back when touched.

Clams and Mussels: The shells should be tightly closed, or they should snap shut when you tap them. If a shell doesn’t close when you tap it, that means the mollusk is dead and you should not eat it.

Shrimp: Fresh shrimp should have firm bodies and should still be attached to their shells. They should have a fresh, ocean-like smell. If shrimp is bad it will have an off smell.

Crabs and Lobsters: When buying live crabs or lobsters, make sure they show some movement. The shell should be hard, and the smell should be fresh, not fishy.

When buying any kind of fish or shellfish, a good rule of thumb is that it should smell fresh and mild, not fishy or sour. If it doesn’t look or smell right, it’s better to be safe and not buy it!

Fish storage methods

Fish comes in many forms: whole, fillets, steaks, and more. Different forms might need different storage methods.

Storing whole fish

For whole fish, keep it as cold as possible without freezing it unless you need long-term storage. You can store it on ice in the fridge, as we mentioned before. Change the ice as it melts and use the fish within one to two days.

Check out my guides on how to freeze lobster or crab to preserve them and have them available even during the winter months.

Storing fish fillets and steaks

Fish fillets and steaks should also be kept super cold. If they’re vacuum-sealed, keep them in their original packaging. Otherwise, wrap them tightly to avoid exposure to air and other smells.

Fish storage tips

Let’s reel in those fish storage tips!

  1. Keep it cold: Fish likes to stay chilly, so always keep it in the fridge or freezer.
  2. Use it quickly: Fish is best when it’s fresh, so try to use it within a day or two.
  3. Keep it sealed: Fish can pick up other smells easily, so keep it well-wrapped or in a sealed container.

How to store fish while fishing and keep fresh

Catching your own fish? That’s fantastic! Keeping your catch fresh is all about quick action and maintaining a cold temperature.

After you’ve humanely dispatched and cleaned the fish, it’s time to cool it down. Your best tool is a high-quality cooler brimming with ice.

Store your cleaned fish in a plastic bag to keep it dry and place it in the cooler, burying it in ice. Remember, heat speeds up spoilage, so avoid leaving your catch in a hot car or under the sun.

Keep your cooler in the shade and minimize opening it. Once home, move the fish to your fridge or prep it for freezing.

How to tell if fish has gone bad

Knowing when fish has gone bad is crucial to avoid food poisoning. Fresh fish should smell sea-like or mild, not overly fishy.

When you touch it, it should feel firm, not slimy or mushy. Also, take a close look at the color and texture. The flesh should appear shiny and moist, not dull, dry, or discolored.

If the fish has any spots of mold or other growth, it’s definitely time to discard it. In general, if your senses signal that something seems off, trust them and don’t risk it.

Frequently asked questions about how to store fish

The safest way to thaw frozen fish is in the refrigerator. Simply move the fish from the freezer to the fridge and let it thaw slowly, which can take up to 24 hours depending on the size. Never thaw fish at room temperature as it can encourage bacterial growth.

Fresh fish should have a mild, sea-like smell, not a strong, fishy odor. It should have bright, clear eyes and shiny, moist skin. If it feels slimy, has a strong odor, or if the eyes look cloudy, it’s likely past its prime.

Fish and meat can be stored together in the fridge, but they should be kept in separate, sealed containers to avoid cross-contamination. The fish, in particular, should be stored on a bed of ice to maintain its freshness.


And there you have it – everything you need to know to keep your fish fresh and tasty! Remember, fresh fish is one of the most delicious and nutritious foods out there.

With these tips, you can enjoy it at its best. Now go forth and enjoy some fantastic seafood dishes!

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