whole fish and fillet of salmon in a vacuum sealed package

What is the Best Way to Vacuum Seal Fish?

If you want to preserve your fresh fish for the maximum amount of time while keeping it tasting great, using a vacuum sealer is your best option.

There is nothing worse than a meal that has an overly strong “fishy taste”. And fish can be expensive, so don’t want any of it to go to waste.

When properly done, vacuum-sealing fish can extend the shelf life of fish by two to three years. Compare this to a conventional freezing method that can extend shelf life from three to six months. 

So, owning a vacuum sealing machine is a good kitchen investment, especially if you have an avid fisherman in the house. 

We’ll go through the process of preserving your fish from catching it on the boat, the freezing process, and how to thaw it when it’s time to eat. Just follow these step-by-step instructions to enjoy fresh and safe fish direct from the freezer.

Note: If you are buying in bulk from the market, skip to Step 3.

How to Vaccum Seal Fish - Keep Your Catch Fresh Longer - Background Image of Salmon and whole sealed fish

Supplies You Will Need

  • Fresh fish
  • Sharp Fillet knife
  • Chopping board
  • Scaler, tablespoon, or a blunt knife
  • Salt
  • Ice cold water
  • Paper towels 
  • Vacuum seal bags (or Reduced Oxygen Packaging – ROP)
  • Plastic container for the brine solution
  • Vacuum Sealer machine
man on river bank putting fresh fish on ice

Step 1: Prepare the Catch

  • Place your catch immediately in a salt ice slurry to avoid bruising your fish. Handle each fish with care. 
  • Clean, dress and wash the fish as soon as possible after getting back from the boat. Within two hours from catching the fish is generally recommended.

Step 2: How to Clean Your Fish:

  • Lay your ice-cold fish on a board, hold head firmly and using a tablespoon, scaler, or a blunt knife, scrape the scales off from the tail to the head.
  • Cut through the belly and remove entrails and pelvic fin.
  • Using a sharp knife, remove the head, pectoral fins, and dorsal fin.
  • It is best to fillet your dressed fish by cutting across the backbone in one-inch or quarter-inch intervals.
freshly caught trout on a cutting board ready for cleaning

Step 3: Soak the Fish in Brine

Next, prepare a brine solution for your fish fillets. Brining will help season the fish. This process improves flavor, gives fish a firmer texture, and reduces moisture loss. 

To make the brine solution, dissolve ¼ cup salt in four cups of cold water. Soak fish fillets in the brine solution for a minimum of five minutes. 

Step 4: It’s Time to Vacuum Seal Your Fish

After soaking in a brine solution, pat each fillet dry. Make sure that you completely dry each fillet by wrapping it in layers of paper towels. Gently press each fish to remove excess moisture. 

Excess moisture may compromise the heat seal if it gets sucked out during the vacuum process and becomes trapped within the seal.

Get your vacuum bags and fill them with your patted-dry fish fillets. 

Pro Tip: Please ensure that you use only vacuum bags. Do not use regular plastic bags. Traditional plastic bags are porous and have high oxygen transmittal rate. Oxygen transmittal rate is the rate of air that seeps out of the bag after being sealed.

  1. Place your vacuum bags in the vacuum machine. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions for your vacuum machine. Instructions will vary based on the type of sealer you own. 
  2. Store your vacuum-sealed fish in your freezer until use and keep the temperature below 38 degrees Fahrenheit (or 3 degrees Celsius).  

Tips For Success:

Make sure that the part where you will seal the package, about two to three inches from the top of the bag, is completely dry. This will ensure the integrity of the seal and that no air will get into the bag.

Label each sealed package using permanent marker pens. Indicate the date of the catch, where you caught the fish, what type of fish it is, and the date of freezing. This will help you organize your food and identify which food to consume first. Always practice the First In, First Out system.

It is important to follow proper thawing procedures for food safety. According to the Food and Drug Administration, the safest way to defrost frozen vacuum-packed fish is first to remove it from the vacuum seal packaging and let it thaw in the refrigerator overnight. Quick-thaw method results in drier and tougher fish meat due to moisture loss. 

You can try to wrap your fish in plastic wrap, freeze for three to four hours until it hardens up, remove from the plastic wrap, place it inside vacuum bags and then vacuum seal. This is to retain the moisture of the fish. 

Frequently Asked Questions

What Type of Sealer is Best For Fish? 

Before purchasing your first vacuum sealer, you must consider how much sealing work you intend to do, the vacuum bag cost, what type of food items you will be packaging, and your budget.

Chamber-type vacuum sealers

Chamber-type vacuum sealers are the most versatile vacuum sealers for home use because they can remove more oxygen from the package than any other sealers. They can handle big batches of sealing and can be used for any food that is sensitive to residual oxygen (oxygen that remains in the package even after processing).

This vacuum sealer is ideal for sealing not just fish and meat but all types of soups, marinades, stews, any liquid, and wet items. 

Countertop vacuum sealers

The most commonly used vacuum sealer fits easily on most countertops. These sealers cost less than a chamber-type vacuum sealer because they are not as versatile. They can not seal liquids like soups as easily and are best suited for occasional sealing use.

Countertop vacuum sealers work well for the weekend fisherman. Check out our reviews of the top countertop sealers to see a comparison of the popular models.

Pistol-type or Handheld vacuum sealer

Handheld sealers are designed to bring the sealer right to the bag. They are compact and easy to store but also have limited suction power. The handheld sealer’s size is convenient for travel and is perfect for taking with you on vacation.

How long will vacuum-sealed fish last?

Frozen vacuum-sealed fish can last for two to three years and still taste fresh from the ocean when you cook them, unlike frozen fish, which can last only up to three to six months.

Can you vacuum seal the whole fish?

This depends on the size of the fish. Table-top vacuum sealer machines can handle only small fishes (like sardines). Larger fish will need to be cut and filleted to fit into the vacuum bags and vacuum chamber.

Can you thaw frozen fish in its vacuum-sealed packaging?

According to the Food and Drug Administration, the best way to thaw frozen fish is to remove it from the vacuum-sealed packaging and let it thaw overnight inside the refrigerator.

Can I refreeze vacuum-sealed fish after it’s been thawed?

Yes, if the thawing procedure has been done correctly and within two hours from thawing. If the ambient temperature is above 90oF (32oC), refreeze within one hour.

What is proper thawing? Remove the fish from the vacuum seal pack and let the frozen fish thaw overnight inside your refrigerator.  

Take Away

brightly colored rainbox trout held proudly by fisherman

Vacuum sealing is the best option to extend a fresh fish’s shelf life. If your family consumes a lot of fish or you intend to create a business out of your catch, it is best to get the chamber-type vacuum sealer machine. 

The upfront cost of the machine may be high but consider the cost of vacuum bags. It will still save you money in the long run.   

With your vacuum sealer machine, you can save a lot of money by buying fish in bulk, dividing it into meal portion sizes, saving on grocery store trips, and enjoy fresh fish every time! Enjoy those fishing trips without worrying about how to store your catch. 

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