Whether it’s fishing calendars or seafood product menus, we often hear about certain fish being “in season.” But what does that mean for fishing enthusiasts and seafood lovers?
The truth is, thanks to advancements in freezing technology—particularly the IQF method, or individually quick-frozen, noted for freezing pieces of food separately instead of one large block—seasonality doesn’t mean what it used to. Much of Alabama’s seafood product, especially big items like Gulf shrimp, is available year-round thanks to this freezing technology.
But if you love seafood, you know that seasonality matters.
Seafood seasonality largely depends on a species’ local abundance and migratory patterns, which depends on the weather and water temperature. Different species are on different schedules throughout the year.
For example, Spanish Mackerel and Cobia migrate through our waters each spring and back again in the fall, but many of those fish love it here and stay all summer! So when a fish is in season, it means they’re in peak freshness, but also peak flavor.
“As a chef, I always get excited when the seasons change, because it means that there are new local ingredients to work with,” said Chef Jim Smith, Chairman of the Alabama Seafood Marketing Commission and Executive Chef for the State of Alabama. “Consumers should know that there is always great seafood available year-round.”
Seasonality is even more important when it comes to recreational fishing. There are certain fishing seasons for Alabama anglers that limit size and number of fish caught for various species, including popular fish like Red Snapper and Triggerfish.
Recreational fishing seasonality is implemented to maintain population levels of various Alabama fisheries to prevent overfishing. This may be frustrating for anglers who only get a handful of weekends a year to target their favorite fish, but it does help ensure that their favorite fish will be plentiful in our Gulf waters for years to come.
“Some fish have closed seasons in certain areas, either to protect spawning aggregations of the particular species or to limit harvest to a sustainable quota,” said Chris Blankenship, Program Administrator for the Alabama Seafood Marketing Commission and Commissioner of the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.
These seasonal restrictions apply to commercial fishermen too, for similar reasons.
“Some fish may not be available year-round because commercial harvesting is closed for a period of time each year,” said Blankenship. “This ensures the long-term health of these fisheries.”
These economics apply to restaurant menus as well. Sustainability has been front-of-mind for lots of chefs serving Alabama Gulf Seafood, and there’s been a big push for featuring underutilized species to help other fisheries stay plentiful.
In other words, if you see a fish you’re not familiar with on a restaurant menu, and it’s from Alabama’s Gulf waters, order it! You’ll likely be contributing to our sustainability efforts by ensuring that your favorite species stay plentiful in their peak season.
“Cooking underutilized species is one of the most exciting emerging trends in seafood today,” said Smith. “I always love experimenting with new ingredients, and diving into underutilized seafood species is a great way to get those creative juices flowing.”
Seasonality matters, folks. And keep in mind, we’re not discouraging you from eating your favorite fish throughout the year—we’re encouraging you to order other species when they’re in season and on the menu. (And of course, please mind those seasonal fishing limits, anglers.)
Want to see what Alabama fish are in season right now? Check out our seasonality calendar, then find an Alabama Gulf Seafood restaurant in your neighborhood.