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History of Seafood

Fresh Seafood at Noryangjin Fish Market in Seoul, South Korea


While he was in Seoul, South Korea, he decided to spend a day wandering through the Noryangjin Fish Market.  Knowing little of what to expect before arriving, he was absolutely thrilled when as soon as he arrived and saw all the fresh seafood. Seafood after all is my absolute favorite thing in the world to eat.  The seafood market is huge, and just about everything from the se that you can imagine is available including things you may have never seen either. Sea squirts in particular are widely available at the Noryanjin market.  His favorite part about visiting the market in Seoul was going upstairs for lunch! There are a number of restaurants that will either cook fresh seafood that you have purchased, or they have an entire menu where you can order anything that looks good. He just showed up at one of the restaurants and decided to order a seabass fish hot pot. It was wonderful, a fiery hot pot of spicy soup boiled with vegetables and kimchi. Of course, it was also served alongside the ever present Korean side dishes and rice.  If you ever visit Seoul, South Korea, he highly recommend taking time to visit the Noryangjin Fish Market – it was one of the coolest things he did while he was there (music: this video contains royalty free music by Kevin MacLeod).

Seafood includes any form of food taken from the sea

Seafood is any form of sea life regarded as food by humans. Seafood prominently includes fish and shellfish. Shellfish include various species of molluscscrustaceans, and echinoderms. Historically, sea mammals such as whales and dolphins have been consumed as food, though that happens to a lesser extent these days. Edible sea plants, such as some seaweedsand microalgae, are widely eaten as seafood around the world, especially in Asia (see the category of sea vegetables). In North America, although not generally in the United Kingdom, the term “seafood” is extended to fresh water organisms eaten by humans, so all edible aquatic life may be referred to as seafood. For the sake of completeness, this article includes all edible aquatic life.

The harvesting of wild seafood is known as fishing and the cultivation and farming of seafood is known as aquaculturemariculture, or in the case of fish, fish farming. Seafood is often distinguished from meat, although it is still animal and is excluded in a strict vegetarian diet. Seafood is an important source of protein in many diets around the world, especially in coastal areas.

Fresh seafood on sale in Kaohsiung, Taiwan

Most of the seafood harvest is consumed by humans, but a significant proportion is used as fish food to farm other fish or rear farm animal. Some seafoods (kelp) are used as food for other plants (fertilizer). In these ways, seafoods are indirectly used to produce further food for human consumption. Products, such as fish oiland spirulina tablets are also extracted from seafoods. Some seafood is feed to aquarium fish, or used to feed domestic pets, such as cats, and a small proportion is used in medicine, or is used industrially for non-food purposes (leather).


Various foods depicted in an Egyptian burial chamber, including fish, c. 1400 BC

The harvesting, processing, and consuming of seafoods are ancient practices that date back to at least the beginning of the Paleolithic period about 40,000 years ago.   Isotopic analysis of the skeletal remains of Tianyuan man, a 40,000 year old modern human from eastern Asia, has shown that he regularly consumed freshwater fish.   Archaeologyfeatures such as shell middens, discarded fish bones and cave paintings show that sea foods were important for survival and consumed in significant quantities. During this period, most people lived a hunter-gatherer lifestyle and were, of necessity, constantly on the move. However, where there are early examples of permanent settlements (though not necessarily permanently occupied) such as those at Lepenski Vir, they are almost always associated with fishing as a major source of food.

The ancient river Nile was full of fish; fresh and dried fish were a staple food for much of the population.   The Egyptians had implements and methods for fishing and these are illustrated in tomb scenes, drawings, and papyrus documents. Some representations hint at fishing being pursued as a pastime.

World fisheries harvest, both wild and farmed, in million tonnes, 1950–2010 

World fisheries harvest, wild capture versus aquaculture production, in million tonnes 1950–2010 
Fishing scenes are rarely represented in ancient Greek culture, a reflection of the low social status of fishing. However, Oppian of Corycus, a Greek author wrote a major treatise on sea fishing, the Halieulica or Halieutika, composed between 177 and 180. This is the earliest such work to have survived to the modern day. The consumption of fish varied in accordance with the wealth and location of the household. In the Greek islands and on the coast, fresh fish and seafood (squidoctopus, and shellfish) were common. They were eaten locally but more often transported inland.  Sardines and anchovies were regular fare for the citizens of Athens. They were sometimes sold fresh, but more frequently salted. A stele of the late 3rd century BCE from the small Boeotian city of Akraiphia, on Lake Copais, provides us with a list of fish prices. The cheapest was skaren (probably parrotfish) whereas Atlantic bluefin tuna was three times as expensive.   Common salt water fish were yellowfin tunared mulletrayswordfish orsturgeon, a delicacy which was eaten salted. Lake Copais itself was famous in all Greece for its eels, celebrated by the hero of The Acharnians. Other fresh water fish were pike-fishcarp and the less appreciated catfish.

Jellied eels

Pictorial evidence of Roman fishing comes from mosaics.   At a certain time the goatfish was considered the epitome of luxury, above all because its scales exhibit a bright red color when it dies out of water. For this reason these fish were occasionally allowed to die slowly at the table. There even was a recipe where this would take place in garo, in the sauce. At the beginning of the Imperial era, however, this custom suddenly came to an end, which is why mullus in the feast of Trimalchio (see the Satyricon) could be shown as a characteristic of the parvenu, who bores his guests with an unfashionable display of dying fish.

Salmon roe

In medieval times, seafood was less prestigious than other animal meats, and often seen as merely an alternative to meat on fast days. Still, seafood was the mainstay of many coastal populations. Kippersmade from herring caught in the North Sea could be found in markets as far away as Constantinople.   While large quantities of fish were eaten fresh, a large proportion was salted, dried, and, to a lesser extent, smoked. Stockfish, cod that was split down the middle, fixed to a pole and dried, was very common, though preparation could be time-consuming, and meant beating the dried fish with a mallet before soaking it in water. A wide range of mollusks including oystersmussels and scallops were eaten by coastal and river-dwelling populations, and freshwater crayfish were seen as a desirable alternative to meat during fish days. Compared to meat, fish was much more expensive for inland populations, especially in Central Europe, and therefore not an option for most.

Modern knowledge of the reproductive cycles of aquatic species has led to the development of hatcheries and improved techniques of fish farming and aquaculture. Better understanding of the hazards of eating raw and undercooked fish and shellfish has led to improved preservation methods and processing.

Tuna at a fish market

Types of seafood: List of types of seafood

The following table is based on the ISSCAAP classification (International Standard Statistical Classification of Aquatic Animals and Plants) used by the FAO for the purposes of collecting and compiling fishery statistics.   The harvest figures have been extracted from the FAO FishStat database, and include both capture from wild fisheries and aquaculture production.


Deep fried pomfret 

Marinated swordfish 

Squilla mantis, a species of mantis shrimp 

In southern Italy and southwestern Spain the snakelocks anemone is regarded as a delicacy 

Some of the following are referred to as whitefish in the market, but are not whitefishes in a taxonomic sense.


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