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5 Delicious Trash Fish Alternatives to Salmon and Tuna

Everyone knows how to make meals out of shrimp, tuna, or swordfish, but what about the stuff fishermen catch that isn’t a popular type of seafood? Bycatch, or “trash fish,” is the name for these extras, and they’ve been showing up on menus recently as chefs around the country create delicious dishes from these previously unwanted fish species. Restaurants like The Refinery in Tampa, FL and the Momofuku Ssäm Bar in NYC have already jumped on board with some of their specials. If you think this sustainable practice is right for your business, here are a few recipes to get you started.

What Is Trash Fish?

Trash fish, also known as rough fish, is a term used to describe fish that is caught accidentally when searching for more popular varieties, like tuna or cod or swordfish, and they're usually discarded by fishermen. While they may have unappetizing names, some trash fish is edible and delicious, and they can be an excellent alternative to other types of seafood. Plus, because these types of fish aren't as popular as others, many of them have very healthy and large populations in the sea, making them an ideal option for restaurants that are looking for sustainable wild-caught fish.

Why Should You Use Trash Fish in Your Recipes?

If you're looking for seafood to use in recipes at your restaurant, diner, or other foodservice establishment, why should you choose trash fish over a more well-known variety? There are two main considerations in choosing trash fish over popular types of fish: price and sustainability.

  • Price: Because trash fish populations aren't fished as heavily as popular fish varieties like tuna and salmon, there are more of them. And because there is a larger supply, they're easier to find, which helps to drive down the price. Additionally, they're seen as less desirable than other types of seafood, which also causes their price point to drop further. So, if you're looking for a healthy and inexpensive protein for your menu, trash fish is an excellent choice.
  • Sustainability: Popular types of seafood like swordfish, salmon, tuna, and cod are currently threatened by overfishing. On the other hand, trash fish have large and flourishing populations, making them an excellent alternative for customers that are looking for sustainable and eco-friendly protein options.

The Top 5 Trash Fish Alternatives to Traditional Seafood

If you've decided to use trash fish in your restaurant's menu but aren't sure which type is best for your recipe, we came up with a list of the five best options as well as the best way to cook each fish to bring out their unique flavors and textures.

1. Pollock

How to Cook Pollock Fish

Atlantic or European Pollock (not to be confused with Alaskan Pollock, which is a completely different fish) is often marketed as an alternative to cod due to its similar taste and texture. This type of fish was very popular in the 1980s and 1990s until the population crashed from overfishing. Since then, though, the population has rebounded and is at an all-time high.

How to Cook Pollock:

Atlantic pollock can be cooked in many different ways, but because of its grayish coloring, it's usually breaded. As a result, this fish is perfect for deep frying, pan frying, or baking in the oven until crisp and delicious.

2. Triggerfish

With a leathery outer skin that can be difficult to cut and a large head that takes up most of the body, triggerfish have been considered “trash” for years. They’re hard to clean, but totally worth it. With a meaty texture and a rich taste, they're amazing with capers, white wine, and lemon flavors. Additionally, the triggerfish meat is almost sweet, giving it a flavor that is similar to crab.

How to Cook Triggerfish:

Triggerfish is a versatile option, and you can use it in many different recipes. For example, you can bake, poach, or grill your triggerfish fillets.

3. Lionfish

How to Cook Lionfish

Lionfish are a carnivorous species with no natural predators, so their population tends to be higher than their habitat can handle. Additionally, they are an invasive species that spreads quickly and overpopulates, hurting other fish populations. That makes for the perfect option for a sustainable, eco-friendly meal. Lionfish has a delicate flavor and a texture similar to grouper that is perfect in many different dishes.

How to Cook Lionfish:

You can prepare lionfish whole or split them into fillets. But, while they may be ferocious hunters, they have a delicate flavor and texture that is better for baking, frying, or using in fish tacos.

4. Sheepshead

Sheepshead, also known as convict fish, are easily recognizable by their large, human-like teeth, which are used for crushing shellfish, and the black stripes running down the side of its body. It can be difficult to clean, so it’s usually passed over. However, the meat inside is moist, firm, and sweet like shellfish. It also absorbs many of the flavors it's cooked with, making it a versatile ingredient.

How to Cook Sheepshead Fish:

Because sheepshead meat is firm, you can cook it many different ways without worrying about it falling apart. The fish itself is large, so you'll want to cut it into fillets before you cook it. Then, you can grill, bake, or saute your fish with your desired ingredients.

5. Sea Robin

How to Cook Sea Robin Fish

These bottom feeders no longer have to be bottom-of-the-barrel. Sea robins, also known as gurnards, have been a popular ingredient in soups and stews in Europe for generations, but they're seen more as a nuisance in the U.S. as they tend to steal fishermen's bait. This type of fish has firm, white meat that holds together well when cooking.

How to Cook Sea Robin Fish:

The rich meaty flavor and tender texture makes sea robin an excellent option for adding to your stews. You can also cut your fillet into small chunks and use it to make a delicious and fresh ceviche.


So, whether you want to serve up a classic fish and chips lunch or an elegant seafood dinner, there’s no reason you shouldn’t use sustainable seafood options. Popular fish like salmon, tuna, and grouper are being overfished, making them more endangered and more expensive. Bycatch is just as good, less expensive, and more sustainable, so the choice is easy.

Posted in: Eco-Friendly Tips | Kitchen & Cooking Tips | By Richard Traylor
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