Maintaining Catch Freshness
So what happens after you have landed that prized snapper, kingfish or trout? Freshly caught fish must be handled correctly to ensure freshness, a firm texture and ultimately the delicate flavour intrinsic to the species.
Proper handling should begin when landing the fish. Always try to minimise bruising caused by contact with hard surfaces (decks, gunwales, etc). The fish should be ‘ikied’ – killed by thrusting a sharp spike or knife-point into the fish’s brain – and washed immediately. Use the deck hose or rinse fish in a bucket to remove slime and spoilage bacteria.
Keeping it cool
How many expectant fishos head off for the day with an armoury of rods, reels and tackle, calling into the local garage, bait or tackle store to load up on an assortment of baits, lures and berley, only to forget one of the key ingredients – ice?
Exposure to the sun, even just warm temperatures, can cause quality problems in your catch within an hour; however, simply chilling fish can prevent quality deterioration and reduce health risks that result from elevated temperatures. Proper icing can be accomplished with a little advanced planning and some relatively inexpensive equipment.
The most effective chilling method available to recreational fishermen in saltwater areas is the use of a brine-slush ice mixture. This is simply made by combining equal portions of clean sea water and ice in a waterproof container. Immediately after washing, the fish should be immersed in the brine-slush mixture and kept there until ready to dress at the end of the trip. In freshwater areas, a slush mixture can also be used, although it will not be as effective as one made with salt water. In either case, make sure to check the slush periodically, topping up with ice as required.
Once fish is cleaned, crushed or flaked, ice is ideal for rapid chilling. Fish stored in crushed or flaked ice remains moist and glossy and does not dry out as fast as fish placed in refrigerated storage without ice.
You can estimate the quantity of ice needed for each fishing trip by taking into account the length of time of the trip, water and air temperatures, and if possible, the size of the catch expected. A good rule of thumb is to take one kilo of ice for each kilo of fish.
Clean fish as soon as possible after they have been caught. Fish tissue is almost sterile, but the skin surface and viscera contain many types of bacteria. The skin slime and viscera also provide food for bacterial growth. Avoid rough treatment while cleaning the fish. Gouges or wounds in the flesh are openings that may allow the spread of bacteria. Gut the fish with a smooth and not excessively long belly cut, leaving no blood or viscera in the body cavity. Thoroughly wash all cleaned fish and keep cool with fresh ice. Most importantly, do not dip cleaned fish in the original brine slush and do not immerse clean fillets in fresh water for any length of time, as this can affect the meat’s flavour and texture.
Refrigeration and freezing of fish
Simply put, the shelf life depends upon the type of fish and how well it was taken care of prior to getting it home. Fish should be consumed within one or two days of refrigerator storage.
Freezing is the safest method of storing fresh fish. Bacteria that can cause illness do not grow at freezer temperatures. You may leave the skin on fish you freeze at home (this can help retain moisture and prevent freezer burn) but never attempt to freeze whole, un-gutted fish.
We all go to a huge amount of trouble to go out on the sea, lakes or rivers to participate in the fabulous pastime of fishing. When you add up the cost of time, fuel, bait, lures, flies and everything else involved in spending an enjoyable day out, consider the additional cost of a few dollars for the humble bag of ice, and put some time and thought into how you handle your catch. It may just make the difference between hunting and gathering a delicious catch or hunting and gathering an inedible catch