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Seafood Terminology You Need to Know

Seafood terminology for better purchasing decisions

Knowing the lingo can help you ask the right questions and make smart product decisions.

What do you call music played on a fishing boat? Doesn’t matter, as long as it’s catchy. Don’t groan. Catchwords and other terminology in the seafood business is no joke. Knowing the vocabulary and how the words apply to foodservice can make you a better buyer and help you describe menu items.

Everyone knows fish ends up on a plate or is used as an ingredient. Few people know how seafood gets from the boat to the table. In some cases there are misconceptions about the way seafood is caught, processed and packaged. Understanding words and phrases from four categories—fishing terms, product terms, industry terms and health/safety terms—can lead you to ask the right questions or provide the right answers about seafood. 

Fishing Terms 

Aquaculture. Seafood “farming.” The breeding, rearing and harvesting of plants and animals in all types of water environments including ponds, rivers, lakes, and the ocean. “To meet the global demand for seafood, this is the future,” says David Sanford, of Halperns’ Steak & Seafood.

Bycatch. Marine life caught unintentionally. Even though specific species are targeted, other animals become hooked, trapped or caught in nets when attracted to the bait. There are restrictions on how much bycatch is allowed, and it is typically regulated.

Farm-Raised. Related to aquaculture, seafood is stocked and monitored in vast pens. Often submerged in ponds, lakes and salt water, the aim is to provide a fertile growing environment, such as in the cold fjords of the Faroe Islands or waters at the base of the Andes in South America. To maintain product health, farmed species are not allowed to mingle with wild species and the grow out areas are rotated to protect quality, according to Limson Trading Commodities Manager Gina Griffis.

Long Line. A fishing technique using a line that’s sometimes miles long. The main line is kept afloat, and short lines with thousands of baited hooks are suspended at a predetermined depth.

Pelagics. Fish that swim mostly near the sea surface or in ocean currents. They have agile bodies made for long-distance migration. Fish in this category include tuna, swordfish, mackerel, anchovies, sardines and shad.

Quota. A mandated limit usually controlled at a government level. It controls how much of a product can be fished by country, vessel, company or individual during a specific time period. Quotas are used to allocate fishing effort and control populations. Quotas may be transferable, inheritable and tradable. Quotas can affect the availability or price of fresh seafood products.

Total Allowable Catch. Known as TAC, this is related to quota. It is the overall catch limit set for a specific fishery during a specified time period, usually a year. This total limit is used to set individual quotas for each country, vessel, company or individual licensed to harvest fish.

Trawl. The trawl is a cone-shaped net pulled through the water. It is one of the most efficient ways to harvest bottomfish, such as cod, haddock and shrimp.

Trolling. A fishing method that adds motion to the baited hooks trailed near the surface behind a vessel. This method is used to target tuna.

Wild Caught. Seafood captured in its natural environment. The Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute notes these fish and shellfish have a natural life cycle and feed on a natural marine diet.

Product Terms

Ahi. A Hawaiian name for yellowfin tuna, the world’s most valuable catch. Fillets and steaks are very popular, with ruby-red flesh that turns an off-white color when cooked.

Calamari. This is the Italian name for squid. The tentacles and tube-shaped body can be sliced, severed or left whole. The meat should be very firm, with cream-colored skin with reddish-brown spots.

Sashimi. Thinly sliced fish or shellfish that is eaten raw. Many people believe this word is a grading term for sushi-grade products, but it’s not. Any fresh seafood used in sushi must be processed for parasite destruction.

Surimi. Fish, usually Pollock, minced into a paste and flavored with an extract before being reformed into flakes, sticks or other shapes and colored. It’s often molded into imitation crab legs, lobster chunks, shrimp and scallops.

Industry Terms

1x Frozen. Seafood that has been frozen one time. These products are usually frozen at sea, but also can be headed and gutted at sea and packed in ice to be frozen for the first time at a packing plant.

2x Frozen. Seafood that is frozen for the first time at sea or on shore, thawed at a processing plant and usually turned into steaks, portions or fillets and then frozen again for sale.

Dressed. Gutted and cleaned seafood. The dressed weight of fish is a measure taken after it has been cleaned and scaled.

FAS. An acronym for frozen at sea. Seafood is headed and gutted on the boat, then packaged and frozen.

Fresh vs. Refresh. Refresh is when an item is frozen after being caught and then thawed out for sale as a fresh application. Seafood thawed from frozen should carry a “refreshed” or “previously frozen” label. This is common, Griffis says, because factors such as supply and demand, fishing seasons and the amount of time between capture and the plate make it difficult to maintain freshness without freezing. 

Glazing. Seafood is frozen in single units and is often glazed with water that acts as a naturally protective coating to prevent dehydration and freezer burn. Wayne Warner, Manager of Seafood Sales for Limson Trading Company, says glazing can add 4 percent to 10 percent to the weight of seafood. All Gordon Food Service IQF (individually quick frozen) seafood is packaged at 100 percent net weight. This means a 10-pound package of fish contains 10 pounds of fish—not nine pounds of fish and one pound of glazing. Not all foodservice distributors adhere to this policy, so he advises buyers to check.

H&G. Short for headed and gutted or headless, dressed fish.

IQF. An acronym for individually quick frozen. 

PBO/PBI. An acronym for pin bone out/in. The pinbones are a row of fine bones extending horizontally along the midline of a fillet, running from the nape of the fish for about one-third of its length.

STP. An acronym for sodium tripolyphosphate. It is an additive used to retain moisture in seafood and is typically used in twice-frozen items with specifications for moisture content. 

Shatter Pack. A carton of frozen fillets packed in layers separated by sheets of plastic. This allows individual fillets to be removed without thawing the entire box. Individual fillets can be separated by dropping (“shattering”) the carton on a hard surface.

Tasteless Smoke. This is a natural wood smoke that has had its smoky odor and flavor removed through filtration. Although carbon monoxide is a component of tasteless smoke, its concentration is similar to that found in normal wood smoke. It helps to retain the bright red color in fish like tuna, mahi-mahi, swordfish and tilapia. While considered safe, it must be declared on the label.

Safety & Health Terms

Country of Origin. Often abbreviated COO, this is a United States labeling standard. The COO label indicates the last country where the product was significantly modified, such as skinning or portioning.

HACCP. An abbreviation for Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point. This is a food safety system in which every step in the manufacture, storage and distribution of a food product is scientifically analyzed for microbiological, physical and chemical hazards. HACCP is overseen by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Suppliers are required to create and implement a program detailing all points in their production process where hazards exist. This includes training people and monitoring conditions to assure product safety. In addition to manufacturer protocols, Gordon Food Service also has a HACCP plan in place to validate seafood safety.  

Omega-3. A class of essential fatty acids found in fish oils such as salmon and other cold-water fish. Omega-3 lowers the levels of LDL (bad) cholesterol in the blood.

Parasites. All living organisms can have parasites, fish included. Parasites are similar to finding an insect between the leaves in a head of lettuce or a small worm at the tip of an ear of corn.  Cooking fish thoroughly eliminates parasite health concerns. Any fresh fish used in sushi must be processed for parasite destruction (see below).

Sushi Grade. This is merely a marketing term. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requires any fresh seafood used in sushi to be processed using a parasite destruction guarantee: freezing and storing seafood at ­4°F (­20°C) or below for 7 days (total time), or freezing at ­31°F (­35°C) or below until solid and storing at ­31°F (­35°C) or below for 15 hours, or freezing at ­31°F (­35°C) or below until solid and storing at ­4°F (­20°C) or below for 24 hours.