How Long Can You Keep Fish on Ice?


The short answer is fish will last up to five days on ice – but if you don’t gut and bleed the fish first, it will only last a day or two before the flavor and quality of the fish suffer. But that’s not always practical, as Teresa Taylor explains.

Lotus Head from Johannesburg, Gauteng, South Africa, CC BY-SA 3.0 <>, Fish_Packed_in_Ice via Wikimedia Commons
Fish Packed in Ice via Wikimedia Commons

You’re on a stack of fat slabs and pulling them in one after another. You know you are going to limit out and probably have enough to cull out the smaller ones, but you are out of space in the live well, and it’s too hot outside to leave them lying on the deck. Can you just toss them in the cooler? The short answer is yes, but how long the fish will last on ice depends on a couple of different factors.

Fish that are properly bled and gutted will last longer than fish taken straight off the hook and placed in the ice chest, but who has time to gut fish when they are biting fast and hard? Well, you don’t have to. Even ungutted fish will last for several hours in an ice-filled cooler with temperatures between 30°, and 40° F. Of course, the quality of the cooler and the actual outside air temperature are going to affect how fast the ice melts, but even a slurry of crushed ice and ice water will protect your fish, as long as it stays at or below 40° F.

There are several things you can do, though, to prolong the shelf life of your fish.

How Long Can You Keep Fish on Ice?

Two major factors affect the storage of fresh fish. The first is whether or not the fish has been bled out correctly. We will describe that in detail below.