Frozen seafood, when handled correctly, is of higher quality than most never-frozen “fresh” seafood on the market. Flash freezing (also known as blast freezing) refers to freezing foods at extremely low temperatures with cold, circulating air. This quick-chill method keeps ice crystals small, which prevents moisture loss when the food thaws. Less damage to the cell membranes means the texture of the food is largely unchanged.
Flash freezing locks in the freshness and quality of seafood the day it was caught and processed. For a day boat operation such as Tre-Fin, that means same-day fresh. (By contrast, fresh fillets and other varieties of “fresh” seafood may have been sitting in the grocery seafood display case for 8 days or more.) In fact, most “sushi-grade” seafood has been previously frozen in order to kill bacteria and parasites. Frozen seafood also offers greater flexibility to consumers, who can defrost as needed, instead of worrying that they have to use the fish before it goes bad.
Nevertheless, many consumers perceive frozen seafood to be a cheaper, lower quality product, and often expect to pay less for what is actually a fresher, higher quality product. This creates a very real market barrier for small-scale commercial fishers with lower volume fisheries who must meet a higher price margin to remain viable.
A movement is underway, to form a base of research and develop education and outreach materials to change consumer perceptions that frozen seafood is of lesser quality.
Flash frozen seafood addresses some of the significant economic challenges facing domestic small-scale fishers: seasonal swings in volume; distribution costs; and more accurately matched supply and demand, which results in far less waste. Freezing allows small-scale fishers to participate in and develop markets for underutilized species, thereby increasing resource utilization without increasing fishing intensity. And freezing provides a buffer against seasonal flooding of small-boat fishers’ core markets.
Flash frozen seafood has environmental benefits too. A product driven a reasonable distance to market has a relatively low environmental impact. Most seafood consumers live a great distance from where their seafood was caught. And the majority of seafood these consumers buy is never frozen and is shipped by air, the world‘s most carbon-intensive form of travel. By contrast, frozen seafood can be moved thousands of miles by container ship, rail or even truck, all of which come with a significantly lower carbon footprint.
If we can increase consumer acceptance of frozen seafood, consumers will have a broader range of carbon-friendly, sustainably-harvested domestic seafood with a far longer shelf life to choose from. By extension, fisherman and fishing communities will have access to new and expanded markets for a more valuable and less perishable product.