How to Know if Fish is Fresh | Journal - Chapter 81
July 3, 2019

How to Know if Fish is Fresh

Our Guide to Buying the Best Seafood

How to Know if Fish is Fresh How to Know if Fish is Fresh
Words by: Phoebe Ryan

How to know if fish is fresh? Well, apparently there are some easy tests, and once you know them, you’re all set! It’s all about trusting the experts, though, and if you can make a relationship with your local expert and trust their expertise, then all the better.

If you’re a foodie like us, you probably love eating fish, but it’s easy to be intimidated by the large quantity of diverse seafood on offer at a fishmonger’s; that wealth of fish on ice can make it hard to be sure what you’re buying, and also how to prepare and cook with it! Many of us go for the easier, pre-packaged fish you find on supermarket shelves. But many supermarket’s dedication to sustainable practice is highly in question, and the freshness of their fish just doesn’t compare to a fishmonger’s stock.

Ask the right questions, and you’ll find that the quality and freshness of seafood from a good fishmonger’s just doesn’t compare to the produce you get at the supermarket. Not to mention, the impact your decision has both on our environment, and our local economy. A good fishmonger’s promotes sustainable fishing, and pays wages back into your local economy.

How to Know if Fish is Fresh Kirkgate Market

We spoke to Ramsden’s, a Leeds fishmonger with a stall in Kirkgate market, who are a fishmonger’s with a real dedication to sustainability and quality. They gave us the inside track on how to know if fish is fresh, and how to choose the best fish for your dinner…

How to know if fish is fresh:


  • Make sure the fish’s eyes are bulbous and shiny; if they’re sunken-in and dull they are likely old fish.
  • Look for bright pink, healthy gills – deep maroon, grey, dried out or gunky gills shows the fish is old.
  • If you buy from frozen, the fish should have clean, taut packaging, with no sign of re-freeze (there should be no ice crystals in there), or blood.
  • Any cuts to the fish should look fresh.


  • A fresh fish will be firm, and clean-feeling under your fingers. An old fish will begin to get wetter, and begin to feel very slimy.


  • The freshest fish smells nice. Depending on where it comes from (sea, river or lake) the smell is different. Sea fish smell of salt, and the sea, whilst river and lake fish can smell muddier – but they should smell pleasant. A nasty ‘fishy’ smell is rot, and is the mark of old fish. A bleach-like ammonia smell is the mark of truly gone-off fish.

Fishmongers are experts in the preparation, cooking of, and (hopefully) sourcing of fish. Don’t feel afraid to ask – if you’ve never cooked squid before, for example, they can set you on the right track. They’ll equally be happy to fillet your fish for you if you like, scale it, or in the case of squid, remove the ink sack and the beak! A good fishmonger should be able to tell you the source of all of their stock, without hesitation.

Sometimes it’s hard to know what to ask, though, to get the most out of your dinner – and, all-importantly, to make sure you’re buying the best-tasting, freshest, and most responsibly-sourced catch. Ramsden’s highlighted a few questions for us that you can ask your fishmonger:

Ask your fishmonger: 

“Is this sustainably caught?”

“Ask if the fish is from a sustainability approved, accredited supplier, or is”day boat” caught fish, as opposed to trawler-caught. Both of the first options are positive, and sustainable. The small boats of local fishermen tend to go out mostly in and around local waters – what you don’t want is fish from the large trawlers that are ripping up the ocean floor and damaging the ocean environment.”

“I’m making sushi. Do you stock Sashimi-grade fish?”

“Customers intent on making their own Sushi have to tell their fishmonger what they are planning, to ensure they are not sold inferior grade fish, as it could lead to poisoning. If you’re interested in sushi, you must use ‘sashimi grade’ quality fish. This is something Ramsden’s specialise in, and we are Leeds’ only Sashimi-grade sellers of Seabass and Seabream.”

“What’s in season/ what’s local?”

“Changes in the industry have led to a decline in seasonal-only supplies as they are fished,  farmed or harvested all year round due to modern technologies and more investment in renewable stocks. There is still wild salmon and wild river trout available – but the prices usually make them an “order only” item, and not something that is sold generally anymore.

In season right now in June/July are Native Crabs and Lobsters that are of a much better quality to imported stocks.”

how to know if fish is fresh fish4future logo

Look out for the Ramsden’s thumbs up, ‘Fish for Future’ sign on the fish stand, which confirms that the catch is both responsibly and sustainably sourced. Find Ramsden’s at 27 Game Row, on Kirkgate Market.

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