Choosing Quality

It’s pretty simple to choose quality, fresh seafood. Just use your senses - smell, sight, touch…and even common sense! First and foremost, buy seafood from knowledgeable, reputable dealers: those you trust with a known record of proper handling practices. Our seafood inspectors often say “the nose knows” - if a seafood counter or freezer case smells fishy, go somewhere else. Fresh, quality seafood should smell like the ocean, not sour or fishy.


Keep an eye out for general cleanliness and proper handling, too. Seafood should be properly iced and refrigerated or frozen. Also, go ahead and plan your menu for seafood, but wait until you are at the market before deciding the exact type of fish to buy. Here you will be able to select the highest quality items at the counter or in the freezer case. Once you’ve found a good source for your seafood, follow these additional guidelines when shopping for fresh and frozen seafood to ensure you are purchasing the best product possible.

At the Seafood Counter

fish market
  • When purchasing whole fish or fish fillets, look for firm flesh. If you press the fish with your finger and it leaves an indentation, it’s not the highest quality. Also, look for shiny flesh. Dull flesh might mean that the fish is old. Fish fillets that have been previously frozen might not have as shiny flesh due to the freezing process, but are still great to eat.
  • Whole fish should have bright, clear, full eyes that are often protruding. As the fish loses freshness, the eyes become cloudy, pink, and sunken. Their gills should be bright red or pink.
  • Check to make certain that there is no darkening or brown or yellowish discoloration around the edges of the fish fillets and steaks, especially if the edges appear dry or mushy. If you’re still uncertain about how fresh the fish is, ask to have it rinsed under cold water and then smell it. Fresh fish should have no fishy or ammonia smell.
  • Live clams, oysters, and mussels might have slightly gaping shells and should close tightly when tapped. If not, the shellfish might be dead and should be discarded.
  • Live crabs and lobster legs should show leg movement. Leg activity will lessen if refrigerated, but legs should show some movement.
  • Raw shrimp meat should be firm and have a mild odor. The shells of most varieties are translucent with a grayish green, pinkish tan, or light pink tint. The shells should not have blackened edges or black spots: this is a sign of quality loss. However, tiger shrimp have bluish colored shells with black lines between the segments of the shell (these are not black spots).
  • Fresh scallop meats have a firm texture and a distinctly sweet odor. A sour or iodine smell indicates spoilage. The smaller bay and calico scallops are usually creamy white, although there might be some normal light tan or pink coloration. The larger sea scallops are also generally creamy white, although they might show some normal light orange or pink color.
  • Whole squid should have eyes that are clear and full, and the skin should be untorn and the meat very firm. The skin of fresh squid is cream colored with reddish brown spots. As squid ages, the skin turns pinkish and the flesh will yellow..

At the Freezer Case

Most frozen fish today compares in quality to fish directly out of the water. Fresh catches are immediately processed and frozen at very low temperatures, frequently right on board the vessel. When buying frozen fish keep in mind the following guidelines:

  • Whole fish should be free of ice crystals, with no discoloration.
  • Fillets or steaks should be solidly frozen in the package.
  • There should be no evidence of drying out, such as white spots, dark spots, discoloration or fading of red or pink flesh.
  • There should be no signs of frost or ice particles inside the package. If ice crystals are present, the fish has either been stored for a long period or thawed and refrozen. There should be no liquid, frozen, or thawed evident in the package.
  • Make sure there are no open, torn, or crushed edges on the packages.
  • Avoid packages that are above the frost line in a store’s display freezer.

For More INformation

A number of excellent resources can provide additional information on choosing quality seafood. Some of our favorites include: