It is important to know how to store a fish after making a freshwater or saltwater catch. Understanding how fish should be stored maximizes preservation time and the quality of the fish when you decide to prepare it for your meal. If you store fish after your catch properly, you will also prevent cross-contamination.

When you store fresh fish at home, there are a few health and taste factors to consider. There are fish storage guidelines you must adhere to but the process varies slightly, depending on when you want to eat the fish and how you choose to store it. Learn how to store fish properly by reviewing the important information provided in the following sections.

How do you store fish you want to eat immediately?

Learning how to store a fish that you want to eat within two days is a simple procedure. To store fish after your catch, you should follow the steps listed below.

  • Bury the fish in a cooler of ice for transportation. A mixture of two-parts water and one-part ice will also keep the fish cold for this process.
  • Rinse the fish in cold water and use paper towels to pat it dry.
  • Wrap the fish in plastic wrap and place it in an air-tight container or zippered bag on ice. Leave the fish whole at this stage to preserve the freshness and taste.
  • Store fresh fish at home in the coldest section of your refrigerator, keeping it as close to 32 degrees Fahrenheit as you can.
  • Place the fish on the bottom shelf of your refrigerator. This prevents cross-contamination between other cooked foods or raw fruits and vegetables.

Keep in mind that the freshness of fish only lasts for two days in the refrigerator. If you do not plan to eat it within that time, follow the fish storage instructions listed in the next section.

How do you store fish for long periods of time?

Mastering how fish should be stored for extended periods of time takes only a few more steps than if you were to prepare it immediately. The fish storage guidelines below provide insight on how to preserve a fish long-term.

  • Follow the first three bullets listed in the previous section. These instructions for how to storage a fish you will eat immediately are the same for preserving fresh fish despite storage time.
  • Place the fish in the freezer until you want to use it.
  • Defrost the fish in the refrigerator to keep it from becoming too warm. It can remain here for two days. If you intend to cook it immediately after defrosting, you can use a microwave to defrost the fish.
  • Put the fish on the bottom shelf of the refrigerator while it defrosts to ensure that any raw liquid released does not cross-contaminate other food items.

After you defrost a fish, it can be refrozen within two days and remain fresh until you decide to eat it.

What are alternative ways to store fresh fish at home?

Two alternative methods for storing fish after your catch are pickling and canning. Both approaches demonstrate how fish should be stored in sealed containers with liquid solution for preservation. Learn how to store fish using the pickling method by following the steps below.

  • Clean the fish and scale it while removing the head and entrails.
  • If the fish is large, cut along the length of the fish to remove the backbone. This step is not necessary for small types of fish.
  • Cure the fish with a dry salt or brine recipe for five to eight days. Salted fish can be stored in temperatures below 50 degrees Fahrenheit for two to three months before pickling or six to twelve months in a refrigerator.
  • When ready to pickle, rinse the fish under cold water to remove the dry salt or brine. If you want to reduce the saltiness of the fish, soak the fish in cold water for no longer than one day.
  • Remove the skin from the fish if you prefer. This step can be completed before curing but doing so can reduce the storage life of fish.
  • Cut fish as desired, usually in strips or bite-sized pieces.
  • Sparingly place the fish pieces in glass jars that have been decontaminated with boiling water. Cover the fish with pickling solution and tighten the lids on the jars.
  • Refrigerate the fish for safety measures against the growth of poisonous bacteria. After one to two weeks, the bones will soften.

The process describing how to store a fish using the canning method is similar to pickling with a small variation in packaging and storage. Canning demonstrates how fish should be preserved over long periods of time without refrigeration. If you want to store fish after your catch by canning, follow the fish storage guidelines detailed below.

  • If you are not using the fish right away, freeze or refrigerate the fish until you are ready to begin canning. Allow the fish to thaw in the refrigerator if frozen.
  • Follow the first two steps listed in the pickling section. These instructions are the same when you store fresh fish at home for canning.
  • Pack the fish firmly into hot quart cans or jars. You can use other can or jar sizes and adjust the amount of fish accordingly while leaving one inch of headspace. No liquid solution, salt or spices are needed, but oil can be added if preferred and spices can add flavor.
  • Clean the rims of the cans or jars with a damp paper towel to remove excess fish oil. Place the lids on properly and process the cans or jars in a pressure canner for the appropriate amount of time.

You can store canned fish at room temperature until you decide to use it. Be aware that canned goods can go bad, so if you are not sure if your canned fish is contaminated, research the signs of food contamination before serving.