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Why don't seafood restaurants keep their fish alive in tanks?

Updated: Aug 7, 2023

This question was originally posted on

This question has been a topic of curiosity for many, and I can shed some light on the reasons behind it. There are indeed several factors why some restaurants choose not to keep their fish alive in tanks:

1. Inferior Taste

Surprisingly, fish in the fish tank may not taste as good as those (dead ones) that have been properly handled. When fish are cramped in a small tank, their health and overall taste suffer. The stress from the change in environment affects the quality of the fish, making it less tasty..

2. Size

Some fish, like Swordfish, Bluefin Tuna, Alaskan Halibut, and Opa, are simply too large to keep in a tank. The sheer size of these fish would require enormous tanks, which is impractical for most restaurants.

3. Technically Challenging

Keeping wild fish alive in a confined environment poses significant challenges such as what and when to feed. It requires expertise and specialized knowledge that restaurant staff may not possess, and dealing with the complexities of maintaining fish in tanks adds to the workload.

4. Cost

Transporting live fish is more costly than handling and transporting dead ones. The expenses involved in maintaining live fish would ultimately be passed on to customers, making dishes with live fish more expensive.

5. Inhumane

Some diners may feel uneasy witnessing the process of selecting and slaughtering live fish at a restaurant. It could provoke discomfort and may be considered inhumane.

6. Time Constraints

If restaurants were to keep large fish alive and serve them to customers, it would be time-consuming to prepare each dish individually. Waiting for hours for a single dish may not be acceptable for most customers.

7. Excessive Servings

If a restaurant were to serve an entire large fish, like a Bluefin Tuna (assuming the establishment has a large enough tank to keep the fish), it would result in an overwhelming number of servings, leading to unnecessary waste and practical challenges.

However, it's worth mentioning that some restaurants still keep fish alive in tanks for various reasons:

1. Visually Appealing

Live fish in tanks can add entertainment value and appeal to customers, especially if they can observe the fish they are about to eat.

2. Assurance and Service

Customers can choose the fish they want to eat, inspect it, and approve it before it's cooked. This transparency adds value to the dining experience.

3. Preservation

Keeping certain shellfish, like crabs and shrimp, alive ensures their freshness and prevents them from deteriorating quickly.

4. Premium Value

Restaurants may add extra value to the price of dishes with live fish, considering the cost of maintaining the tank and the assurance of freshness.

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