Caring for Your Catch
Length with intro/outro: 4:58
Download mp3 file: Caring for Your Catch [4.55 MB]
Summer is salmon season in Alaska. In this week's CoastWise Alaska, a salmon quality expert offers tips to keeping that fresh-caught salmon fresh a little longer.
Many of us have seen it—a sport or personal use fisherman lands a nice salmon and then tosses it onto the beach or into the bottom of the boat, where the fish flops around under a hot sun until it finally dies. Hours later, the fisherman cleans his fish, stuffs them into plastic bags, and hauls them home.
But is that any way to treat one of nature's most tasty and delicate seafoods? No way, says Chuck Crapo, a seafood quality specialist with the Alaska Sea Grant Marine Advisory Program in Kodiak.
CRAPO: "The easiest way to good quality fish is to dress them quickly and keep them cool."
Sage advice from someone who knows. Crapo works primarily with commercial fishermen and seafood processors to improve the quality of Alaska's catch and develop new seafood products. He says sport fishermen can learn a thing or two from the state's commercial fishing industry, which has spent much of the past decade trying to improve the quality of its catch.
CRAPO: "One of the big problems in the commercial fishery is bruising. Bruising can happen just by dropping the fish a foot or two onto a hard surface. If the sport fisherman does the same, he gets a bruise. You are pretty disappointed when you have to cut out a piece of meat and throw it away because it has a huge bruise that makes the flesh inedible."
Paying attention to quality isn't hard, but it's often forgotten in the excitement of catching as many salmon as possible while the fishing is good. But there's a trade-off. Crapo says a salmon begins to spoil within minutes after it dies.
CRAPO: "On a warm day in the middle of the summer, that spoilage is probably happening within a half hour after you land the fish. If you wait a couple or three hours, you have a fish that's soft, and you've lost a lot of quality."
Crapo says ensuring the highest quality fish is a process that begins as soon as the fish is landed.
CRAPO: "As the fish comes over the side or onto the shore, first of all stun it, whack it in the head, kill it, and then after that I would dress it, get rid of the viscera—the guts—because that's the source of quick spoilage. And then I would have my cooler available and either have gel ice or ice in there and put the fish in as quickly as possible, because you want the best quality product and so you want to chill it down as quickly as possible."
Alaska is home to five species of salmon, and Crapo says no two of them are alike when it comes to preserving quality. King salmon, for example, have a lot of fat in them, which makes them delicious. But the fat also causes them to spoil faster. Coho, or silver salmon, also tend to spoil more quickly than the other salmon.
CRAPO: "Out of all the species of salmon, I think the coho, or silver salmon, is probably the most delicate. If you abuse it any length of time, it will deteriorate so quickly that you won't want to eat it. So, take care of your cohos. Certainly take care of the rest of your fish. But cohos need special attention."
Crapo says that's because coho salmon, unlike the other species, continue to gorge on food all the way to the spawning grounds.
CRAPO: "Most salmon stop feeding when they come into the streams in Alaska. But coho tend to eat all the way up to the spawning grounds. As a result they have stomachs full of food and lots of enzymes. Some people call them a hot fish because you can feel the stomachs just get warm because of the feed in there."
When it comes to dressing, or cleaning, your salmon, the standard methods are fine, as long as you do a good job, Crapo says.
CRAPO: "I think the important thing is to make sure you slit the belly and pull the guts and slit the throat. But probably what's most important is to clean the bloodline, cut that and scrape it completely. The bloodline is a really good place for bacteria to grow. So scrape the bloodline and get all that out of there and you are going to improve the quality of the fish a lot."
Crapo says sport and personal use fishermen can take another tip from commercial fishermen, and bleed their fish. While the fish is still alive, make a sharp cut across the gills to let out as much blood as possible. Blood can become a breeding ground for bacteria, so the less of it in your fish the better, especially if you plan to put your fish in the freezer.
CRAPO: "Bleeding is nice. I think what it does is improve the visual appearance of the fish. It's something that is done in the commercial fisheries in certain parts of the state, but I don't know that you see a lot of benefit of it unless you are going to hold that fish in your freezer for four or five months. If you are going to eat it immediately, bleeding doesn't matter."
CoastWise Alaska is a production of the Alaska Sea Grant College Program, University of Alaska Fairbanks, which offers outreach and technical assistance to help Alaskans wisely use, conserve, and enjoy the state's marine and coastal resources. Check out our Web site at CoastWiseAlaska.org.