How long can fish be stored in freezer?

Quick Answer

Fish can be stored in the freezer safely for up to 3 months. The shelf life of fish in the freezer depends on a few factors like the type of fish, the fat content, how it was caught and processed, and how well it’s wrapped for freezing. Lean fish like cod, tilapia, flounder, and sole will keep longer, while oily fish like salmon and mackerel have a shorter freezer life.

How Long Does Fish Last in the Freezer?

Most fish can be frozen for 2-3 months in a home freezer safely. Here are some general guidelines for how long different types of fish will last in the freezer:

Lean Fish

– Cod: 3 months
– Haddock: 3 months
– Tilapia: 3 months
– Flounder: 3 months
– Sole: 3 months
– Halibut: 3 months

Oily Fish

– Salmon: 2 months
– Mackerel: 2 months
– Tuna: 2 months
– Trout: 2 months
– Swordfish: 2 months


– Shrimp: 3 months
– Lobster: 2 months
– Crab: 3 months
– Clams: 3 months
– Scallops: 3 months

Smoked Fish

– Smoked salmon: 2 months
– Smoked trout: 2 months
– Smoked whitefish: 2 months

The freezer time for fish depends on a few different factors:

Fat Content

Lean fish have a lower natural fat content than oily fish. The fat in oily fish like salmon and mackerel tends to become rancid more quickly during frozen storage compared to lean fish.

Processing Method

Fish that is frozen quickly right after being caught will last longer in the freezer compared to fish that sits for a few days before freezing. Quick freezing helps stop bacteria growth and enzymatic activity that can lead to spoilage.

Freezer Temperature

Fish frozen at 0°F or below will store longer than fish frozen at higher temperatures. Setting your freezer to 0°F gives you the maximum storage time.


Fish that is vacuum sealed or wrapped tightly in plastic wrap or foil will last longer in the freezer compared to fish stored loosely wrapped. This protects against freezer burn.

Type of Fish

The structure of the fish impacts freezer life. Lean fish with low moisture and fat content, like cod, freeze well for longer periods. Fatty fish like salmon don’t freeze as long before quality declines.

How to Tell if Frozen Fish Has Gone Bad

It’s important to know how to check your frozen fish to determine if it’s still good to eat. Here are some signs that indicate frozen fish has spoiled:

– Unpleasant “fishy” or ammonia-like odor
– Discoloration; flesh is grayish or dull
– Dry, stringy texture instead of firm and moist
– Ice crystals or freezer burn on the fish
– Fish has been frozen for over 3-4 months

Use your senses of sight and smell to determine freshness. If the fish doesn’t look or small quite right, it’s best to toss it. Always cook frozen fish within 2-3 days after thawing in the refrigerator. Don’t refreeze fish once it has thawed.

Proper Storage for Maximum Freshness

Follow these tips for freezing and storing fish to extend its freezer life:

Freeze Fish Quickly

Freeze the fish as soon as possible after catching or purchasing. The faster it’s frozen, the better the texture will hold. If freezing at home, spread fish out in a single layer on a baking sheet and freeze for 1-2 hours before packaging.

Protect Against Freezer Burn

Wrap fish tightly in plastic wrap, waxed paper, or foil. Make sure there is no air trapped inside. You can also vacuum seal for best results.

Prevent Ice Crystals

Ice crystals can damage tissue and impact quality. To prevent freezer burn, wrap fish well and freeze quickly at 0°F or below.

Label Packages

Include the type of fish and date frozen so you know how long it’s been stored.

Organize Packages

Arrange fish packages neatly and rotate older inventory to the front. Use oldest fish first.

Maintain Proper Freezer Temperature

Keep freezer at 0°F or below. Use a thermometer to monitor the temperature if unsure.

Thawing Frozen Fish Safely

It’s important to thaw frozen fish correctly to keep it safe and maintain quality. Here are some tips:

Refrigerator Thawing

For best results, thaw fish in the refrigerator. Place it on a plate or tray to catch drips. Most fillets will thaw overnight. A large thick fillet may take 24-36 hours to thaw.

Cold Water Thawing

For faster thawing, seal fish in a plastic bag and submerge in cold water. Change the water every 30 minutes. Cook fish immediately after thawing.

Microwave Thawing

Use the “defrost” setting in the microwave to thaw fish fillets and steaks. Cook immediately after thawing.

Avoid Room Temperature

Never thaw frozen fish at room temperature. Bacteria can start growing rapidly above 40°F.

Cook Thawed Fish Right Away

Cook thawed fish within 24 hours of refrigerator thawing and immediately if thawed in cold water or microwave. Refreezing thawed fish lowers the eating quality.

How to Freeze Fish at Home

Follow these easy steps for freezing fish at home:

Step 1: Prepare the Fish

Clean, scale, and fillet the fish if applicable. Cut into portion sizes if desired. Pat dry with paper towels.

Step 2: Chill Fish

Refrigerate fish for 1-2 hours before freezing to make sure it is very cold. Chilled fish freezes faster.

Step 3: Package Fish

Wrap tightly in plastic wrap, waxed paper, or foil. Vacuum seal for best quality. Label with type and date.

Step 4: Freeze Fish

Arrange fish flat in a single layer on baking sheet. Freeze for 1-2 hours until completely solid. Transfer to freezer bags or airtight containers.

Step 5: Store Properly

Place fish packages in coldest part of freezer, at 0°F or below. Freeze for up to 2-3 months for best quality.

Tips for Cooking Frozen Fish

Frozen fish is great to have on hand for quick and easy meals any night of the week. Follow these tips when cooking frozen fish:

Inspect Package

Make sure frozen fish is solidly frozen and shows no signs of freezer burn or discoloration.

Thaw Properly

Thaw fish overnight in the refrigerator or use the microwave on the “defrost” setting. Don’t thaw at room temp.

Pat Fish Dry

Once thawed, pat fish fillets or steaks with paper towels to remove excess moisture before cooking.

Portion or Slice

Cut fish into individual portions or slices if needed for recipes before cooking.

Use Proper Cooking Method

You can bake, broil, grill, pan sear, or air fry thawed frozen fish. Adjust cook times slightly longer than fresh.

Cook Immediately

Always cook thawed frozen fish right away, within 24 hours. Do not refreeze thawed fish.


Frozen fish can make preparing seafood simple any day of the week when you get in the habit of keeping your freezer stocked. Lean fish like cod and tilapia stay fresh longer, often for 3 months when frozen at 0°F. Fatty fish like salmon and trout have a shorter freezer life around 2 months. Handle frozen fish carefully, thaw using refrigeration or cold water, and cook immediately for best quality and food safety. With proper freezing and thawing techniques, fish stays delicious when stored in the freezer.

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