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“Trash Fish” Are Trending: Consumers Beginning to Recognize Hidden Value of Unappreciated Fish

They are underused, undervalued, unappreciated – and surprisingly tasty. The fish known as “trash fish” can actually make extremely healthy and delicious seafood dishes. These previously unpopular fish choices are gaining momentum in the seafood market as more chefs and consumers are beginning to recognize their precious value on the dinner table.

The seafood industry caters to consumer demand, and over the last several decades, consumers have desired the big fish or the more common seafood. Salmon, tuna, cod, halibut, shrimp– all are now extremely popular and fishing pressures on these species has increased. With the threat of overfishing looming on the horizon, we need to consider our alternatives. And truthfully, the alternatives are amazing!

trash fish
Typically caught as bycatch, skate wing can be crafted into a culinary masterpiece that diners will love.
Image courtesy of Flickr user Alexis Lamster.

Trash for dinner

We’ve heard that it is healthy for us to eat fish that are low on the food chain. And consumers have been listening – our demand for sardines, herring, and anchovies has been on an upward train for the last several years. But when we say trash fish, we mean those local, obscure, virtually unknown species that are considered a downright nuisance for fishermen.

They’ve been dubbed the “trash fish”, a rather unattractive name attributed to their lack of value in the seafood industry. This includes all the lesser-known species that lie in abundance off coastlines, often caught as bycatch or targeted for fishmeal rather than human consumption. Since most consumers don’t know how delicious these fish can be, they are sold for mere pennies at the market, making them virtually worthless for the fishermen who catch them.

If you’ve ever seen a monkey-face prickleback or a wolf eel up close, you might understand the hesitation we have for eating them. Yet these not-so-beautiful fish can offer up a meal that can be described as just short of divine! And not only are they tasty, but they also offer the same health benefits as their more popular cousins. Since most trash fish are low on the food chain, consumers can choose to consume a robust dose of omega-3 fatty acids without fear of mercury levels. It simply takes an adventurous spirit to try something different.

trash fish
The lesser-known cousin of the halibut, the sand dab makes a spectacular meal for diners looking to try something new.
Image courtesy of Flickr user Krista.

Trash fish dining

The term trash fish might be great for sensationalism, but we should in no way consider these fish disposable or worthless. They are the future of our seafood industry. If we are to relieve pressure on our larger, more highly desired fish, then we must find our seafood-based protein source somewhere else. Trash fish offer us a fantastic source of sustainable seafood. They may currently be a simple annoyance for fishermen who find them in their nets, but over the next few years people will begin to see their value and understand what an excellent option they make.

An amazing group called the Chef’s Collaborative has been working tirelessly to introduce consumers to the delectable world of trash fish. They’ve been traveling the country since 2011, cooking up a storm for their “Trash Fish Dinners”. Their chefs feature a broad range of trash fish, with the most recent dinner in Oregon showcasing yellowtail rockfish, wolf eel, skate wing, Ivory King Salmon, and sand dabs as delectable seafood items.

If we can shift perceptions on these trash fish and encourage more people to try them, they will gain popularity and positive momentum. With some of the pressure taken off species such as salmon and tuna, certain populations can have time to recover to more sustainable levels.

An interesting plus side – diners enjoy trying something new, exciting, and exotic. It’s all in the presentation. In 2012, the monkeyface prickleback sparked a small commercial fishery in the San Francisco Bay Area as diners were enticed by the delicate, mild meat of this strange fish. Now the monkeyface consuming crowd gobbles up all that restaurants can buy.

Certain trash fish are so abundant, that once a market is created for them then they can support fishermen who otherwise may lose their livelihoods. Say you are a cod fishermen in Cape Cod. As the population of cod dwindles, you are forced to take your boat further offshore and fish for hours on end to pull in a decent catch. Soon enough the profit pulled in from your catch will no longer pay for your fuel, gear, and deckhands.

Now – say there is a vibrant population of dogfish in a location much closer to shore. You can easily catch twice as much dogfish than cod in half the amount of time. If there were a market for dogfish, you could easily continue to support yourself and your family. Once we toss in some effective management, the fishery could take off and generate more income for an entire community.


From trash to treasure
One day we will no longer call these fish trash. Rather they will become the delicacies and the popular menu items. With demand for fish distributed amongst many types of fish, we can better support healthy oceans and refrain from overfishing. Choose your new favorite trash fish from the Pucci Foods catalog and offer your clients something new and exciting. We guarantee they will love it!


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