seafoods are among the most perishable of all foods. Unlike
many foods that we eat, we may harvest fish and seafoods or
we may purchase them alive. There is great diversity in types
of fish and seafood. Fish are not handled the same way that
you would crabs and crawfish. Consequently, the way we handle
these highly perishable foods at the time of capture or purchase
will determine their quality at the table. The following are
some tips that may help you to handle your catch in the field.
This short summary of handling practices contains only major
consideration. Contact your local Marine Advisory Agent for
any specific questions or concerns.
For the most part, fish die soon after capture. At a minimum,
live fish should be stored on stingers, in live wells or in
live baskets to maintain quality. Avoid throwing fish in the
bottom of the boat or in buckets or cans. Chilling with ample
amounts of ice is the best way to retard deterioration. Place
fish in an ice chest with approximately 1 to 2 pounds of ice
for each pound of fish. As the ice melts, periodically, drain
off water and add more ice if necessary. Melting ice will
have a tendency to wash off bacteria if drained, however,
if the water is not drained, the fish soaking in the water
and the build up of slime may cause the fish to spoil. A big
ice chest will be required to handle large fish. Gutting fish
will also help to preserve quality. Do not fillet or cut the
head or tail off of fish until you return home. The only way
that conservation regulatory agencies can determine the species
and legal size of fish is by examining the whole fish.
Live crabs and crawfish must be kept under conditions that
will keep them alive until cooking. Upon death, they will
decompose extremely rapidly. Always discard dead crabs and
crawfish prior to cooking. The best way to prolong the life
of these shellfish is to keep them cool, moist and with some
fresh air. Under ideal conditions, crabs and crawfish may
be kept alive for several days out of water. Never place them
in closed containers full of water, such as an ice chest,
as they will quickly suffocate and die. Crawfish are usually
purchased in onion sacks and these are excellent for maintaining
them alive. Live crabs are generally stored in wooden crates,
covered with a damp burlap sack. Never place crabs or crawfish
directly in the sun, but place them in a cool shaded area.
Ice placed on top of the sack will help to cool the shellfish
and the dripping melt water will keep them moist. Allow for
some air circulation. Although, the shellfish are out of water,
the internal gills are kept wet inside the shell but must
have fresh air. Prior to cooking, always carefully examine
the crawfish or crabs to be sure they are alive and thoroughly
wash them to remove unwanted debris. Take care to avoid cross
contamination between the live and cooked shellfish. For example,
never placed cooked crawfish or crabs back into the same container
in which the live shellfish were stored as this may cause
a serious illness.
The regulations for harvesting and consuming oysters are very
strict for your safety. Never harvest oysters without following
all rules and regulations required by state and federal agencies.
To do so is a serious violation of law even if it is for your
own use. Harvesting waters must be routinely evaluated and
approved by the state. Most oyster bottoms are leased by seafood
businesses. However, there are public harvesting areas but
the rules for harvesting from these areas must be carefully
followed. The Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries
can provide this information to you. Most of Louisiana marine
waters are closed to oyster harvesting for public health reasons.
Consuming oysters from a closed area can result in serious
illness. Always buy oysters from a reputable dealer. When
purchasing oysters by the sack, it is important that the harvesting
tag be attached to the sack. This tag indicates the harvester,
the date and the location of harvest. By law, all legally
harvested oysters must have the oyster tag attached to the
sack. Also for safety reasons, sacks of oysters should be
cooled shortly after harvesting by the commercial harvester
and they should be thoroughly cooled at the time of purchase.
Never purchase a sack of live oysters unless you are able
to keep them cool to at least 45°F. The consumption of
raw oysters should be avoided by certain individuals for health
reasons. Read all warning labels and check with your physician
if you are unsure if you are at risk.
Like fish, shrimp die quickly after harvesting and must be
iced down quickly in an ice chest. As a general rule, use
1 to 2 pounds of ice for each pound of shrimp to be iced.
The ice and shrimp should be thoroughly mixed to insure quick
and adequate chilling. As the ice melts, water should be periodically
drained off. Shrimp will spoil quickly if allowed to set in
undrained water. As the ice melts, it should be replaced with