How fresh is your catch of the day, really?

How fresh is your catch of the day, really?

May 28, 2014
How fresh is your catch of the day, really?

Technology may add more truth to the meaning of "fresh from the sea," writes Dan Donovan of Hooked Inc. in Toronto

When did this fish come in? Years ago when our food distribution system was simpler, this was a good question to ask your local merchant. Now it almost always will receive a cheerful and sincere “today” in response. What the discerning customer really wants to know is if the fish is at its best, and this has more to do with when it was caught and handled on the way. 

For a long time, the seafood industry has sold customers on the notion that everything is fresh from the sea—just landed, catch of the day and so on. But when was the fish actually caught? It depends. 

Many small operators will “day boat,” making short trips during the day and landing their catches immediately. But many commercial fisheries use larger vessels that operate further offshore for up to five days at a time. 

In both cases the fish are stored on ice in the hold of the vessel. Refrigeration is critical at every step of the journey from boat to table, because the quality of fish declines faster and at lower temperatures than most other food products. This means the average refrigeration temperatures that keep a broad spectrum of foods safe, including sensitive vegetables, are likely not low enough for fish, which should be stored at close to 0°C.

Once seafood is “landed,” it commonly takes another three to five days for the fish to get trucked from the coast to central Canada and on to retailers and restaurants. Do the math and you discover fish touted as having arrived fresh that day may be 10 days old.