If COVID-19 caused you to cancel a visit to a British Columbia fishing lodge this summer, your stock of frozen fish you caught yourself is likely running low — or worse, long gone.

Buying tasty, delicious salmon to tide you over until your next fishing trip can feel impossible. But with a few simple tips, it is possible to buy good fish at your local grocery store.

Keep reading to learn what you need to know to stock up on salmon for making all of your favorite recipes, all year long.

Understand What You’re Buying

When you cast a line in the cool waters of British Columbia and reel in a fish, there’s no question about where that fish came from, what it ate, or how it was caught. The same can’t be said when purchasing fish at a grocery store. 

Labels on different types of fish, including salmon, will tell you a little bit about the origin of that fish. The origin can affect everything from taste to quality to allergens, so it’s important to understand exactly what you’re purchasing.

These are a few of the common words and phrases you might find on a grocery store label:

  • Wild-caught: As the name suggests, this label is an indicator that the fish you’re buying was caught in the wild, as opposed to grown on a farm. If you’re looking for fish that’s as close to what you could catch and cook yourself, you’ll want to look for this label.
  • Line-caught or troll-caught: Just because a fish was wild-caught doesn’t mean that it was caught on a hook and line. Look for the words “line-caught” or “troll-caught” to find fish that is. Keep in mind that while these fish might cost more, the fishermen tend to inspect each and every fish, and this method of fishing is generally more eco-friendly.
  • Sushi-grade: Planning to eat your salmon raw? You’ll want to make sure that the label says that it is sushi-grade first. This type of salmon is flash-frozen, which kills any parasites that would otherwise be killed when the fish was cooked.
  • Fresh or organic: Finding these words on a label might make you think that you’re making a smart choice. Unfortunately, the USDA doesn’t currently have certifications for organic or fresh fish, so these words don’t really mean anything.

Know What Type of Fish You’re Purchasing

The label will tell you more than just how your fish was caught and prepped for sale. You might think that the label will make it easy to figure out what type of fish you’re buying, but this isn’t always the case.

For instance, it’s common for salmon in grocery stores to be labeled “Wild Alaskan salmon.” But there are actually 5 species of salmon native to Alaska, and to British Columbia. That salmon in your package could be Sockeye, Coho, Pink, Chum, or Chinook salmon.

The most common type of salmon sold in grocery stores is actually Atlantic salmon. Much of that salmon is raised in fish farms, rather than caught in the wild. Fish farms are known for being far from eco-friendly. However, it is possible to shop for sustainably farmed fish. The Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch provides tools to help shoppers find fish that’s both tasty and farmed in a more eco-friendly environment.

Another common word you might spot on a label that can mislead shoppers is “steelhead” or “steelhead salmon.” Steelhead is actually a species of rainbow trout. While tasty, it isn’t salmon. The filets tend to be thinner as well, so if you plan to buy it, know that it may cook faster than thicker salmon filets do.

Other Tips for Shopping for Salmon

Understanding the labels and the type of fish you’re buying can help you make the right choice at the grocery store. Other tips that can make the experience smoother include:

  • Taking a whiff — as a general rule, if the fish smells fishy, it likely isn’t fresh
  • Salmon filets that appear to be flaking at the edges is often past their prime
  • The more pale a filet is, the less fresh it is
  • Don’t be afraid to buy frozen; while you should still check the source, frozen fish is often a great way to get safe and tasty salmon all year long
  • Wild-caught salmon tend to be in season from May to October, so if you see it being sold as “fresh” outside of this time, that’s likely not the case

Stocking Your Freezer With Fresh Caught Fish

Shopping for salmon at the grocery store doesn’t have to be a guessing game. With these simple tips, you can enjoy your favorite salmon recipes all year long, even when your stock of fresh fish runs out.

Of course, the best way to enjoy some fresh salmon is to catch it yourself! Now is a great time to start planning your next fishing excursion on Malcolm Island. Check out our planning resources today to start searching for the perfect fishing lodge for your next visit.