Why It Pays To Can Seafood Directly After Catching It

A common question among the American public seems to be whether canned fish is as good as fresh. This is a fair enough question as a 2021 study conducted by New York University found that the consumption of highly processed food has increased over the last 18 years. The issue is that these foods contribute to obesity and heart disease. So, anything that sounds as if a company has tampered with it, like canned fish, can arouse skepticism.

The answer to such worries is that canned fish is just as nutritious as fresh fish. So while Consumer Reports included an obligatory warning about the mercury levels in both canned and fresh tuna in 2015, its main message was that both canned and fresh fish are about as equally healthy as each other. In fact, canned salmon might have an edge because most wild-caught salmon is bottled, while farmed salmon has usually been subjected to pesticides.

The New York Times boosted the image of tinned fish further. Canned fish, it noted, was typically cheaper than fresh fish because it had a longer shelf life. It can also come with oils full of omega-3 fatty acids. So, canned fish is marginally better nutritionally speaking; it costs less and can be stored for longer than fresh fish.

Often canned fish is fresher, anyway

A further thing to consider when it comes to canned fish is that the fish is fresh when canned. Again, this ties back to the point made by The New York Times. When a fresh fish is preserved, it maintains its freshness for longer than a fish that is presented as fresh.

"The best conserva [an Iberian product range of preserved fish and shellfish] makers are canning fish caught literally the day before," Abel Álvarez, the chef and owner of the restaurant Güeyu Mar, told Serious Eats. "Why wouldn't you maintain the freshness of that fish as long as possible?" After all, if they can the fish days after the catch, that freshness would be diminished.

The piece goes on to consider the point from an environmental perspective. First, it's easier to track the provenance of canned fish. It's more fuel efficient to slowly ship tinned fish than to rush with fresh fish, lest it spoils before reaching the market. When you realize that the health difference between canned fish and fresh fish is zero, these positive aspects of canned fish become more than compelling. They become common sense.