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The technical aspect of fish handling, marketing and distribution will be discussed in this chapter in relation to maintenance of quality. The main objective is to keep the pond produce fresh until it reaches the market and/or consumer.

The principal means of maintaining fish quality discussed herein is the use of ice as a corollary to recommended handling practices. Other handling methods are also included not as a substitute for ice but as an intermediary or alternative measure that may be used momentarily for and in the absence of ice. Guidelines on the proper handling of fish throughout the distribution channel will also be presented. With these guidelines, it is expected that the fish handlers would be able to deliver the best quality of fish and fishery products that will command a high price and at the same time satisfy the consumers.

The main species of fish raised in ponds are milkfish (Chanos chanos). In some fishponds, tilapia (Tilapia mossambica), crabs (Scylla sp.) and shrimps are also raised either as incidental or secondary crop. For this reason, discussions will be limited to the handling, marketing and distribution of these species.

1.1 Principles of Fish Spoilage

1.1.1 Why fish spoils

If we know why and how fish spoils, we will be able to prevent spoilage. Spoilage begins as soon as a fish dies. It is the result of a series of deteriorative changes which are broadly classified into three courses such as: autolytic, bacterial and chemical.

Autolysis or self-digestion is the breakdown of tissues caused by enzymes. Enzymes are chemical substances naturally present in fish muscle which are primarily responsible for digestion of food. They act as biological catalyst in chemically breaking down the food taken by the fish, and are very powerful in their action. In the live tissue, their action is controlled. As soon as the fish dies, however, the control is lost but the enzymes remain active. The enzymes instead of acting on the food now act on the fish muscle, resulting in the softening of fish flesh. In addition to the naturally occurring enzymes in fish, bacteria introduced into the fish muscle and those present in the gills and intestines secrete enzymes which also act on the fish flesh.

While autolysis is proceeding, bacterial decomposition sets in. Bacteria are not present in the flesh of living fish, but a short time after harvest they enter the flesh by way of the gills, the kidney (which usually remains after gutting) and the blood vessels, and eventually through the skin.1 Soon after death, the body's defense mechanism against this invasion ceases to operate so that bacterial activity is enhanced. One important characteristic of bacteria is that they grow very rapidly and increase in number so fast that unless checked, they continue their spoilage action. They have been found to be the most important spoilers of fish. Since spoilage starts from the surface, then we can prevent contamination of fish muscle by washing properly, gutting, and chilling.

1 Cutting, C.L., et. al., The Care of the Trawlers Catch, Department of Scientific and Industrial Research Food Investigation Leaflet No. 3, p. 2.

In addition to bacterial and enzymatic action, chemical changes involving oxygen from the air and the fat in the flesh of fish can produce rancid odors and flavors. These changes overlap with enzymatic and bacterial activities. Rancidity develops more in fatty species than in lean ones.

1.1.2 Characteristics of fresh and spoiled fish and shellfish

Table 1 shows the difference between fresh and spoiled fish which may be used by the consumers as a guide in buying fish. With this guide the consumers would be able to decide if the fish displayed in the retailer's table should be accepted or rejected.

Table 1. Characteristics of Fresh and Spoiled Fish
EYESBright, bulging, pupil velvet black, cornea transparentDull, wrinkled, sunken pupil dull black, cornea opaque
GILLSBright red, covered with clear slime; odor under gill covers freshDull brown or gray, slime cloudy; odor under gill covers sour and offensive
FLESHFirm, body is stiff, impression made by fingers do not remain; slime present is clearSoft and flabby; impression made by fingers remains
BELLY WALLSIntactOften ruptured; viscera protruding
MUSCLE TISSUEWhitePinkish, especially around backbone
VENTPink, not protrudingBrown, protruding
ODORFresh, fishy odorStale, sour or putrid

Characteristics of Fresh and Spoiled Shrimp
Fresh shrimps slip crisply over one another; fresh odor; flesh is firm, grayish-green and semi-transparentPresence of “black spot” or discoloration; ammoniacal odor in nature; color not natural for the species

1.2 Definition of Terms

  1. Channel of distribution - is the pathway taken by the commodities as they flow from the point of production to the point of intermediate and final use.

  2. Chilled shrimp - is shrimp that complies with the quality requirement for fresh shrimp, prior to and after chilling and stored in a temperature of 5°C (41°F) to 1.1°C (30°F).

  3. Chilling - is a process whereby the product is cooled to the temperature of melting ice 0°C (32°F).

  4. Cleaning - means the removal of objectionable matter from surfaces.

  5. Consumer - is the individual who buys a particular product/commodity according to his taste, preference and income with the aim of satisfying his wants. He is the final point in the final point in the entire marketing flow of any product/commodity.

  6. Contamination - means direct or indirect transmission of objectionable matter to the fish.

  7. Fish caught - is fish actually caught by persons engaged in fishing operations.

  8. Fish handling - implies the proper handling of fish from the moment it lands in the fishermen's boat till it reaches the consumer's kitchen. It is an exercise of care to prevent the catch from contamination and physical damage plus speedy treatment with ice.

  9. Fresh fish - are freshly caught fish which have received no preserving treatment or which have been preserved only by chilling, having its original qualities unimpaired, i.e., not deteriorated in any manner.

  10. Fresh shrimps - are freshly caught shrimps which have received no preserving treatment or which have been preserved only by chilling.

  11. Market - is an area or building used for the display and sale of the catch.

  12. Marketing - are those business activities involved in the flow of goods and services from production to consumption including transportation, storing, financing and the market information functions.

  13. Quality - or degree of freshness refers to the condition of freshness of the fish landed or unloaded. It may either be good, fair or poor.

  14. Transport - is the carrying or moving or causing to be carried or moved, of fish and other fishery/aquatic products from the source to their destination.

  15. Retail - is when fish catch is sold directly to consumers and/or end-users.

  16. Retailer - is a fish trader who sells his fish purchase to the ultimate consumers and whose quantity of fish purchase is usually much smaller than that of the wholesaler.

  17. Wholesale - is when the fish catch is sold to other sellers in bulk.

  18. Wholesaler - is a fish trader who buys fish in fairly large quantities and sells these to other fish traders (but not to the ultimate consumers).

  19. Wholesaler-retailer - is a fish trader who buys fish in fairly large quantities and sells these to other fish traders or directly to the ultimate consumers.

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