Let’s talk about buying Fish, today – Written by Dr. Harold Gunatillake


Let’s talk about buying Fish, today – Written by Dr. Harold Gunatillake

Harold Gunethilake

Fish market in Lellama

Fish monger selling

Dried fish

‘Today, three billion people around the globe depend on seafood as their primary protein source’.

Fresh fish or frozen fish

Should you go for fresh fish from the fish monger, fish market, or for frozen fish in the supermarkets?

In Sri Lanka, along the seacoast there are wayside fish stalls selling fresh fish. That fish could be fresh because they are kept in containers with ice for sale direct from the fishing boats.

Fish, when caught are flash frozen on the boat right after it’s caught. In Sri Lanka, though the fish is not frozen in the boat, they are quite fresh and lively when brought to the shore early hours, when bidding takes place. They are removed in containers with ice and sold to the local markets and waysides.

If the fresh fish is kept exposed for a day in these wayside stalls, it is best to avoid purchasing them.

Fresh fish should have a mild scent and moist fresh and appears freshly cut.

If you get that strong fishy odour it would not be fresh. Whole fish should have bright, bulging eyes and bright red or pink grills.

In the fish markets, in Sri Lanka, fish is always fresh closer to the sea, as in Colombo or any coastal towns like Negombo, the northern coastal areas in the west coast.

One of Negombo’s most popular sites is the fish market, known by locals as “Lellama “; the second largest in Sri Lanka. It gives tourists the chance to meet the local fishermen, watch the daily fish auctions, organise fishing trips or boating tours of the lagoon and ocean beyond

Sea fish that is available in the central provinces of Sri Lanka are kept fresh, because they are transported from Batticaloa or Trincomalee in ice freezers overnight and then thawed out behind the supermarket counters. https://youtu.be/8xEJWHW8WYw

Frozen fish at your supermarket will not have the same fresh taste as those in your fish markets. Freezing does change the texture and the flavour

The slices of big fish you buy at the supermarket are oily fish, such as salmon, sardines, barramundi, snapper, John Dory., pilchards, trout, sprats mackerel, among others.

There are very good reasons to purchase frozen fish, including the convenience and being already cleaned and sliced. Frozen fish prices are cheaper at the supermarket.

Frozen fish is just as good as the fresh ones with no loss of nutrients and health benefits. Frozen fish can be kept in your deep freezer for about six months, and convenient to stock if you are far away from town areas.

Freezing fish kills any bacteria and other organisms including parasites and safer than the fresh. Gastrointestinal upsets are more with eating fresh fish.

Oily fish has at least ten per cent of healthy omega-3 oils. The oil has two important fatty acids: eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). These fatty acids are considered important for the development of the brain in the foetal stage and has cardiovascular system benefits.

Fish liver also has beneficial oils. Cod liver oil comes from the liver of the cod fish. It has less omega-3s but is very rich in vitamin A and D.

Another popular supplementary oil is the halibut-liver oil from the halibut, also contains vitamin A, quite popular in the past, in Sri Lanka.

Fish is rich in Vitamin D and B2 (riboflavin), calcium and phosphorus, and a great source of minerals, such as iron, zinc, iodine, magnesium and potassium.

Eating fish regularly seem to lower your blood cholesterol and reduce the risk of heart disease.

Fish has top quality protein like the eggs.

Barramundi, native to Australia and the Indo-Pacific, also known as Asian sea bass, has delicate flavour and moderate fat content, and as such is impossible to overcook. It does not give a strong odour like most other fish like salmon and other oily fish. It offers desirable taste and culinary properties: it’s packed with heart-healthy Omega-3s and is a hardy species that lends itself to farming without antibiotics or hormones.

Common Commercial Fish Types of Sri Lanka

Seer fish in Sri Lanka is Spanish mackerel. It is also called Thora in Sinhala. This is the most expensive fish. It has the main skeletal bones only and can be eaten quite safely without small needle like bones been pickup whilst eating.

Thala path or Sail fish is cheaper and quite popular in Sri Lanka. They grow quickly, reaching 1.2-1.5 m length in a single year.

There are about 100 species of common commercial fish around the country.

Contamination with chemicals

Big fish can be contaminated with mercury and PCBs, but their benefits are much more likely to outweigh the risks.

Raised mercury concentrations are found in Japanese people as they eat lot of raw fish daily, shellfishes as “Sashimi” and Sushi”

Mercury is found in underwater sediments and in polluted water. Fortunately, seawater contains only small concentrations of methylmercury.

 Larger fish eat the smaller fish containing small amounts of mercury. Mercury is not excreted from the body of the fish and tends to accumulate.

Overall, larger and longer-lived fish tend to contain the most mercury, these include shark, swordfish, fresh tuna and king mackerel.

Swordfish has the highest amounts of methyl mercury, as much as 0.995 ppm. While canned tuna has only 0.128 ppm. Trout has only 0.071 ppm.

Mercury poisoning

Those who eat fish more than twice a week need to check their blood mercury levels. A normal mercury level is less than 10 ug/L (micrograms/litre) and less than

20ug/L in urine. Higher levels suggest toxic exposure.

U.S. government agencies recommend keeping your blood mercury levels below 5.0 mcg per litre

The early toxic symptoms of methylmercury from ingestion are peripheral vision impairment, pins and needle sensations in the limbs and mouth, loss of coordination, muscle weakness and other impairment of speech and hearing.

Mercury exposure is also linked to high blood pressure.

It is also linked to conditions like Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, autism, depression and anxiety.

If you have early symptoms as described, please see your family doctor for a blood test.

Benefits of eating fish

Benefits of eating healthy fish twice a week piles up. The Omega-3s lowers blood pressure, softens your blood vessels, cuts the risk of irregular heartbeats, and drops fatal heart disease.

The Omegas lower the risk of stroke, some cancers, improves your mood, and being anti-inflammatory helps prevent arthritis.

Oysters as an aphrodisiac?

The belief that oysters raise your libido is not true. Possibly, certain nutrients like, selenium could make you friskier.

Servings per week

The American Heart Association recommends at least two servings of fatty fish per week. Each serve is about the size of your palm of your hand.

Eating raw fish

Eating any form of raw fish as in Japanese cuisine poses a high risk of food-borne illness than cooked seafood. But Japanese seem to get away from that risk of infection by eating fresh raw fish or meat sliced into thin pieces and often eaten with soy sauce and forms an important part of food culture around the world.

Avoid eating especially larger species being linked to higher levels of mercury in the body.

Dried Fish

Marine Fish that is discarded and leftovers are dried and sold as dry fish. The fish is bisected, wide opened cured with salt and sundried, or boiled.

The species that are used for drying are Katta, Balaya, Keeramin, Seer an Maduwa.

One could call them “Processed Fish”

Dried fish is a rich source of proteins like the fresh ones, containing 0-85% protein.

These processed fish retain antioxidants and omega-3 benefits of the fresh fish, while constituting a healthy food for both people and dogs.

Most dried fish contain little salt though it is being cured with salt. As awareness of the obesity problem among most people and increase in diabetes and heart disease, the demand for dried fish will increase as well.

Another advantage of dried fish is that they are not contaminated with germs and parasites and fear not to consume unlike the fresh fish.


Nutritional benefits are many by eating fish, provided you keep an eye on toxic symptoms as described above, on mercury poisoning.

Hope this article was useful.

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