I am confused whether river fish can be categorised under "seafood".

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  • 3
    I’d categorize them under fish. “Seafood” is really there so it can include things like shrimp, clams, and other edible non-fish from the ocean. – Jim May 5 at 5:42
  • Hi Tejesh, welcome to EL&U. What did you find when you looked up seafood [NB: one word] in a dictionary? Can a river be considered part of the sea? Since the answer is readily found using commonly accessible resources, I'm voting to close this question as off-topic. For further guidance, see How to Ask and take the EL&U Tour. PS most would use the mass noun fish instead of the countable noun fishes in the given context. Also, you might find our other site English Language Learners has some useful resources. :-) – Chappo May 6 at 1:45
  • Interesting factoid: During Prohibition a restaurant with a seafood sign was signalling that you could get beer or liquor there. I remember reading that that was the case in Philadelphia. Here is a passage describing the same situation in Baltimore. books.google.de/… – KarlG May 6 at 9:07

Welcome to EL&U. You are not the only person who is confused, looking around the internet there are a number of different definitions of 'seafood', even sources which can normally be considered reliable differ on this point.

For instance the Online Oxford Dictionary defines seafood as:

Shellfish and sea fish, served as food

which would include freshwater shellfish like freshwater clams and mussels, include sea fish like herring, tuna and cod but exclude freshwater fish like trout.

The Collins online dictionary on the other hand defines it as

shellfish such as lobsters, mussels, and crabs, and sometimes other sea creatures that you can eat

This excludes all freshwater creatures and says that fin fish are only included sometimes.

also Merriam Webster says it is

edible marine fish and shellfish

which includes sea fin fish but is not clear as to whether freshwater shellfish are included.

On the other hand Britannica.com says it is

edible aquatic animals, excluding mammals, but including both freshwater and ocean creatures

which definitely includes shellfish and fin fish from both salt water and fresh water. By the Britannica definition lobster, herring, freshwater clams, marine clams, cockles, prawns, trout, salmon and a whole host of other creatures are included and only mammals, birds and land dwelling creatures are excluded.

The California Department of Public Health defines shellfish as

seafood products, which include all fish and fishery products intended for human consumption

it then goes on to list all sorts of creatures, both freshwater and saltwater and including frogs an alligators as seafood!

Interestingly this cookery website compares various definitions including a very broad one from the US Department of Agriculture and a much narrower one from the Larousse Gastronomique. The discussion is worth reading but is far to long to copy here. However it ends with what I consider a very good summary of the argument from a cookery point of view which is

Generally, if someone sits down in a restaurant and orders a Seafood Antipasto, or a Seafood Salad, they are not expecting to see a hunk of salmon on it: they are expecting calamari, scallop, shrimp, shellfish, etc.

Unfortinately, when it comes to 'seafood' there does not seem to be a universal definition or any agreement as to whether fin fish of any kind or freshwater shellfish are included or not. It seems that many organisations use definitions that suit their own purposes.

  • I'm not sure why you refer to "scaled" fish and therefore exclude fish without visible scales, e.g. swordfish, shark. Also, I don't think there's any ambiguity regarding freshwater fish: the definitions in MW, Oxford, Collins, Cambridge and Dictionary.com all specify fish from the sea (i.e. not freshwater fish). The only ambiguity is about non-fish aquatic animals, but that's not what the question asked about. – Chappo May 6 at 2:09
  • @chappo, Quite right, I should have said "fin fish", I'll change it. However some of the definitions I have seen, including those given by Britannica and CDPH, neither of which is trivial, specifically include freshwater fin fish. I also suspect that the OP may well have meant shellfish and crustaceans as well as fin fish by the term "fish" since his confusion seems to stem from the inclusion of creatures from rivers in the term 'seafood'. – BoldBen May 6 at 2:48
  • Isn't "fin fish" a tautology? What fish species doesn't have fins? – Chappo May 6 at 2:54
  • @Chappo Shellfish, crayfish, and jellyfish. :) – tchrist May 6 at 4:18
  • @tchrist Other invertebrates include starfish, cuttlefish and silverfish, though the latter infest my bookshelves rather than the oceans. Not to forget the oafish, elfish, offish, raffish and selfish, none of which are regarded as kosher/halal. – Chappo May 6 at 7:57

It might be interesting to note that "sea-food" is predominantly an Amercian word. The Oxford English Dictionary lists a quote from Baugh's 1935 history of the English language that reflects this:

A writer in the London Daily Mail recently complained that an Englishman would find ‘positively incomprehensible’ the American words..sea-food,..and hired-girl.

The oldest citation in the OED is from 1836, but Google Ngram Viewer shows that the term "sea-food" has become more prevalent only since the 1940s:

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Another citation from the OED illustrates this rise in the use of the term in the mid 20th century:

Twenty or thirty years ago..fish was upgraded to seafood. (K. Hudson, Jargon of Professions, 1978)

So maybe "sea-food" is as ill defined as @BoldBen has expounded in their answer because it is not the term used to speak of fish, shellfish, and such by most native English speakers.

Here's another quote from the OED for your delectation:

‘I hope you like sea-food.’.. ‘Sea-food?.. Fish, that is? Oh yes, I do, indeed.’ (..True enough, though this ‘sea-food’ set Charles thinking that he also enjoyed ‘land~food’.) (J. Hilton, Time & Time Again, 1953)

  • Although I ended up sure that there was no universally agreed definition of 'seafood' I, personally, tend to think of it as being a translation of 'fruits de mer', 'meersfruchten' or fruitti di mare' and, therefore, excluding both freshwater invertebrates and all fin fish (although the german definition of 'meersfruchten' specifically says that 'seafood' is a wider definition. I do wonder whether the wider definition(s) of 'seafood' came about because because of the greater distance of the inland States from the sea. – BoldBen May 6 at 3:32

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