What Makes A Fish “Good” vs “Cheap”?

Red’s Fresh Fish is one of many in the fishing industry that belong to the growing “Fresh and Local” movement. In this movement, it is sometimes mentioned that a “good” fish isn’t a “cheap” fish and a “cheap” fish isn’t a “good” fish. But what exactly makes a fish “good” or “cheap”?

Many will, and have, implied that it is based around price. A high-priced fish is a good fish and a low-priced fish is a ” cheap” or “trash” fish. In this post we’ll briefly cover some points that will be discussed individually and in-depth in future blog posts.

First, let’s take a look at the usual presumed definition of cheap – pricing. For the most part, fish is generally expensive. Less sought after fish averages between $4-8/lb depending on season, and highly sought after fish can see prices of $10-15/lb or higher. Price variation also comes into play on whether the fish is farm-raised, imported, or wild caught.

Working with the average prices, many people simply can’t afford fish at all or as much as they’d like to. Fish is primarily bought once to a few times a year in families that have lower-class salaries. If fish coming out of the same body of water sells at one price in an upper-class community, but a lower price in middle-class and lower-class communities, why should the fish in the upper-class community be seen as a superior fish? It was caught in the same body of water. In this example, lower price doesn’t make the fish a worse fish.

There are markets that try to make fish affordable to their communities, while at the same time pay their own bills and raise their families – albeit on a smaller profit margin. This is not to say, however, that all low-priced fish is of equal quality to the higher-priced counterparts. Always be sure to know where the fish came from. We will get into that in just a second.

Fish can’t always be judged by price and price alone. There are many factors that go into a “good” fish vs a “cheap” fish. A low priced fish isn’t always a “cheap” fish. Sometimes all a lower price means is a lower profit margin on the fish being sold, making the fish available to a broader market.

Now let’s take a look at where the fish originates. Is the fish you’re looking to purchase wild caught, farm-raised, local or imported? This is where it gets interesting, and where it really counts.

Most farm-raised fish aren’t taken care of properly, including being fed poor diets. Many fish that are farm-raised are fed pig feces, chicken feed, bread, and other unnatural food sources as their diet. They are also fed antibiotics and growth hormones. In processing, these fish are treated with carbon monoxide and other dangerous chemicals labelled as “preservatives” on the packaging. The majority of these ill-treated farm-raised fish found in supermarkets for our consumption are also imported.

The above picture is of Tilapia. One brand found in WalMart and the other in Winn-Dixie. It’s not just Tilapia, read the packaging next time you shop for fish.

Imported fish is a huge problem, in more than one area. Keep in mind that over 90% of fish and seafood consumed is imported. Aside from the fact international fish farms care more about profits than quality, only a small minority of imports is checked by the FDA for health violations. This means that the vast majority of fish in our supermarkets can potentially cause disease and it passed under the radar. All the while anywhere from 50-75% of imports checked are sent back for violations. What does that say about all the fish that wasn’t checked?

Many countries we recieve imported fish from either don’t have industry regulations, or the regulations that may exist aren’t enforced. This causes for mis-labelling of fish products and other fraud to go largely unnoticed.

This is why it is important to look for wild caught, non-imported fish. Yes, wild-caught fish in American waters is typically more expensive than the farm-raised or imported counterparts. But not always. There are markets and local fishermen that provide local, wild caught fish at the same price or lower price than the farm-raised and imported counterparts. If you look hard enough, you’ll find them.

In looking for the best deals on your fish, don’t just look at price. Be sure where the fish came from. The healthiest option is to buy local, wild caught fish. Even if the price is a little higher than the supermarkets, do you really want to put a price on the health of you and your family? Besides, with local fish you know what you’re getting. Your local fisherman or fish market can tell you where the fish came from or point you in the right direction if they don’t have what you’re looking for.

By buying local, you’re not only choosing to consume a healthier fish, you’re supporting your local economy and helping a local fisherman raise his family. To answer the question ‘What makes a fish “good” vs “cheap”?’, a ” good” fish is a fish you know what you’re getting and where it came from; a “cheap” fish is a fish that was raised in ill-conditions or processed poorly with only profits in mind.


  1. What To Know About Imported Seafood
  2. Imports and Exports: How Safe Is Seafood From Foreign Sources
  3. The Heavy Burden Of Choosing Farmed & Imported Seafood
  4. Seafood Safety: What You Need To Know About Fish From China
  5. Farm Raised vs Wild Caught Fish | That Organic Girl
  6. Buying Fish? What You Need To Know
  7. Farm Raised Fish vs Wild Caught Fish | Quick And Dirty Tips
  8. Why Are We Importing Our Own Fish?

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