What makes a fish Kosher?



Shopping for  fish can be fairly confusing. The biblical injunction – only fish with fins and scales – sounds fairly straightforward. And it is easy to remember that shellfish – including such popular items as lobster, shrimp and mussels – are verboten for the kosher-observant.

However, the reality for modern fish-buyers is complicated, and not just because later commentaries elaborated on the biblical injunction by noting that you must be able to remove the fins and scales without tearing the fish’s skin. Whereas once upon a time people ate mostly locally fished foods and chose from a limited array of options, nowadays the fish available in supermarkets (and at specialized fish stores) comes from all over the world, and often is sold pre-cut and prepackaged.

Other modern-day issues:

*It is not uncommon for fish to be labeled improperly, whether deliberately (a phenomenon called “species substitution”) or by accident.

*Fish often have multiple names.

*Fish that are otherwise kosher are often caught and processed together with non-kosher fish, which means there may be some cross-contamination.

For these reasons, the Orthodox Union (the world’s largest kosher-certification agency), which used to publish a kosher fish list, stopped doing so in the early 2000s. According to an article on the group’s website, “common names” for fish are often unreliable, with several different types of fish referred to as “red snapper.” And knowing Latin names isn’t much help, according to the OU:

The problem is that fish sellers never refer to fish by Latin names, and have generally no knowledge of the correct Latin name for a fish! In one case, we asked a kosher fish store the Latin name of a certain (kosher) fish and the Latin name provided was that of a completely different, non-kosher fish!!!”

One other issue to keep in mind: While the Conservative movement regards swordfish and sturgeon as kosher, most Orthodox sources do not.

Please use our Common Kosher Fish list as a general guide, rather than authoritative sources – particularly if you are strictly observant or are cooking for someone who is strictly observant.

One last thing to remember about fish: It is not kosher (according to Orthodox interpretation; Conservative sources have dropped this rule) to cook or serve fish and meat together. The fish-meat separation rule is less stringent than the dairy-meat separation, however.

Fish is pareve, neither meat nor dairy, so there is no need to have special fish dishes or utensils. However, you should wash the dishes and utensils before using them for meat. Also, there’s no requirement to wait a set length of time between eating fish and meat (although some rabbinic sources require washing hands, rinsing your mouth or cleansing your palate in some other manner); in fact, fish is often served as a first course in a meat meal.

Common Kosher Fish

  • Albacore
  • Alewife
  • Anchovies
  • Angelfish and butterflyfish
  • Barracudas
  • Atlantic Pomfret or Ray’s Bream
  • Bass
  • Blackfish See Carps and Wrasses
  • Bluefish or snapper blue
  • Bluegill
  • Bonefish
  • Butterfish
  • Caviar (must be from a kosher fish)
  • Codfish
  • Blue whiting or poutassou
  • Dolphin fish (Not to be confused with the mammal called dolphin or porpoise, which is non-kosher.)
  • Flounders (includes halibuts, soles, and turbots, not including European turbot)

Bigmouth sole

Dover sole

English sole

Fantail sole

Yellowfin sole

Pacific turbot

Diamond turbot

Greenland turbot or halibut

  • Haddock
  • Halibut
  • Herrings
  • Lake Herring
  • Largemouth bass
  • Mackerels
  • Mahi mahi
  • Marlin
  • Mullets
  • Perches, includes pike perch, sauger, walleye, yellow perch, and yellow or blue pike
  • Pikes, includes pickerels and muskellunge
  • Pollock
  • Porgies and sea breams, includes pinfish, scup, and sheepshead
  • Sablefish or black cod
  • Salmon
  • Sardines
  • Scorpionfish
  • Sea bass
  • Sea chubs, includes Bermuda chug or rudderfish, halfmoon, and opaleye
  • Smelts, includes capelin and eulachon
  • Tarpon
  • Tautog
  • Temperate basses (includes giant California sea bass,striped bass or rockfish, yellow bass, white bass, and white perch)
  • Tilapia
  • Tilefish
  • Trouts
  • Tuna
  • Whitefish
  • Whiting