DEFINITION: “Round fish” or fish “in the round,” with head, viscera, tail, etc. still intact. Among many fish offered whole are shark, tuna, swordfish, salmon, tilapia, red snapper, trout, mackerel, striped bass, ocean perch and black sea bass.


Cost. Whole fish is normally the least expensive form of seafood, if it can be carefully processed and fully utilized — as fillets, steaks, loins, even soup stock. (A word of advice: Learn species-specific yields for the various cuts from whole fish before you make your purchase, or you may wind up paying more than you expected for an “inexpensive” product. Suppliers should be able to provide you with information on yields.) 

Quality. A whole fish affords an unequaled opportunity to assess the quality of the product, since key indicators — eyes, gills and scales — are still present. 


Deterioration. Head, gills and viscera provide a source of bacterial and enzymatic contamination, so process whole fish quickly. Fatty fish like salmon and mackerel are especially susceptible to rancidity if not stored properly or processed promptly. 

Expense. Processing whole fish can be expensive, unless you have uses or markets for every part of the fish. 

Waste. Disposing of unused or unwanted parts can present problems. 


  • Fish should have a bright, shiny appearance and little or no aroma. Dull-colored skin suggests deterioration. 
  • Eyes should be bright and full, with black pupils and clear corneas. Clouded, sunken gray or pinkish eyes can indicate a lack of freshness. 
  • Scales should be firmly attached, and gills should be red and free of slime, an indication that oxygen is present and that the fish is very fresh. 
  • Flesh should be firm and elastic to the touch. Check belly for swelling and gas; deterioration there will rapidly spread to the flesh.