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Field Dressing/Transporting

Field Dressing and Transporting - Fish & Shellfish

Capt. Lewis
Tuesday March 4th 1806.

We live sumptuously on our wappetoe and Sturgeon. the Anchovey is so delicate that they soon become tainted unless pickled or smoked.Alaska Halibut
the natives run a small stick through their gills and hang them in the smoke of their lodges, or kindle a small fire under them for the purpose of drying them. they need no previous preperation of guting &c and will cure in 24 hours. the natives do not appear to be very scrupelous about eating them when a little feated.- the fresh sturgeon they keep for many days by immersing it in water.


After the fish is caught and retained it should be examined carefully to determine if it has any signs of disease or other malformations.  A healthy fish will have clear, bright eyes and dark red gills.

If you are fishing from a boat keep the fish alive by placing them in a live well or wire mesh basket that is placed in the water.  Fish can also be put on a stringer and left in the water but make sure the fish can move about and use their gills.

Once the fish are removed from the water or live well they need to be placed on ice.

For “on ice” transportation times less than 4 hours:
Trout, Salmon and Steelhead
Gut and remove gills
Bass, walleye, halibut, sturgeon, catfish and pan fish
Bleed the fish by slicing the gills

For "on ice" times greater than 4 hours:
All fish
Gut and remove gills
Remove the kidney (black material in rib cage under backbone)
Wash inside and out with water
Wipe dry inside and out with paper towel
Seal in plastic bag and store under ice

For local transportation times nominally less than overnight, the fish must be transported in sealed plastic bags covered with ice in an appropriate sized cooler. The temperature should be maintained between 35-40 F.

If you plan to transport fish from Alaska to Washington or other destinations it will need to be properly processed and packaged before shipment. There are three options for shipping:

one is to have them shipped as part of your luggage
or shipped as air cargo
or packaged and transported privately in a freezer

You should compare prices to determine the most economical way to ship your catch and it will depend on the amount of fish to be shipped.

In either case, the fish can be filleted, vacuum sealed, frozen and packaged by any of the local processing facilities.  

These companies would need to receive the fish about 24 hour prior to departure.
If you decide not to have the fish processed or packaged by a commercial facility, you will need to obtain the packaging guidelines from the airline for shipping fish.
Normally wet ice is not allowed but dry ice up to 5 pounds is allowed without requiring additional documentation.


There are no field dressing requirements for shellfish and the main objective after harvest is to keep them clean and alive until they are processed.  During harvest it is important that you determine if the area that you are harvesting is open to the public, is posted as a safe area and you know the size restrictions.

Crabs and other shellfish must be kept alive while transporting them and the best way is to keep them wet, cool and away from heat sources.  This can be done by wrapping them with a wet cloth/burlap or paper towel and placing them in an open container where the temperature can be maintained between 35 and 40 degrees F.  Shellfish will say fresh for a limited number of days:

Crabs will keep several days if kept cool and moist
Oysters will keep for 7-10 days and
mussels 4-5 days.  

Do not put live shellfish in a closed container or in a container of water because once the oxygen is consumed the shellfish will suffocate.  Also if the shellfish comes in contact with ice or ice water it may stun them and cause them to die.

Shellfish can also be shipped from Alaska to other destinations but the requirements are different from those for fish.  

Shellfish would normally be shipped live which require special packaging and handling.  
You would need to get the packaging guidelines from the airline.