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Is That Fish Really Fresh? A Buyer's Guide

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Unless you've caught the fish yourself, how do you know that what you're buying in a shop is truly fresh?  Here's a helpful guide to choosing the freshest fish you can buy.

Where to buy fish and shellfish

The best place to buy fresh fish and shellfish is at a fish market or specialist fish shop, where the turnover is quick so the stock is always fresh.  Mobile fish sellers are also a good source of fresh fish as they generally visit the quayside fish markets early to buy the best fish from the early morning catch.

Wherever you go to buy your fish, the place should not smell overtly fishy.  Fish begins to smell stronger as it ages and the flesh begins to decompose due to bacterial activity.  A good fish shop or fish market should smell of the sea – briny and fresh. 

Sure signs of a really fresh fish

Freshly caught fish should have little or no aroma except for that of the sea.  Fish that smells extremely fishy is most likely a few days old.  The fish's scales should appear shiny and metallic, not dull and greying; never buy fish that has patches of discolouration on the skin; it could be unsafe to eat.

A fresh fish's eyes will look bright and clear.  Although it's safe to use a fish with dull eyes, it will not be very fresh.  Similarly, the fish's gills should appear a rich, deep red.  Gills that appear faded are a sign that the fish is a few days old.

Filleted fish

If you're buying fish ready filleted, there are a number of signs in addition to the above that will indicate how fresh it is including:

  • The fish's flesh should feel firm to the touch.  As you press the flesh with a fingertip, the meat should quickly return to its original shape and your finger mark should vanish.  
  • Any liquid present on the fish should be clear.  If the liquid is cloudy, the fish is old and should not be eaten.


Shellfish are always sold live; any dead ones should be thrown away.  When you cook shellfish, the shells should open up.  Any that don't open were dead to start with and should be discarded, as they are not safe to eat.

In conclusion

Fresh fish is delicious and nutritious.  Make sure that you always buy the freshest fish and shellfish for your family by following the seafood tips above.