Many, not all, fish have scales and they are on the fish to give it external protection. The Australian Museum has cataloged a great number of fish scales, and they range from sharp looking to round and smooth. Fish scales range is size and type, and in many cases can be used to identify a particular fish.

The Different Types of Fish Scales

Placoid Scales – from cartilaginous fish (sharks and rays). These scales don’t grow in size, but rather just multiply to cover the fish as it grows. They are rough and have sort of a nap – smooth in one direction and rough in the opposite direction, which produces a smoother swim making the fish very efficient swimmers.

Cycloid Scales – from soft fin ray fish (salmon-like and carp-like fish). Circular in shape with a smooth feel. These scales grow with the fish.

Ctenoid  Scales – from spiny fin ray fish (perch-like fish). Roundish scales with a fine, comb-like edge. These scales grow with the fish, as does the ‘ctenii’ which are edges.

Ganoid Scales – scales from primitive looking fish such as sturgeons, paddlefishes, gars, and bowfin. These scales have a ridge at the end which interlocks with the next scale.

Cosmoid Scales – scales from the lungfish family, and lobe-finned fish. Similar to placoid scales.

Elasmoid Scales – scales from ancient fish and lobe-finned fish such as coelacanth.

Scaleless Fish – clingfishes and fish from the Gobiesocidae family. Instead of scales for protection, these fish are covered in a thin layer of mucus. Fish in this category include catfish and eels.

Fish Scalers

Fish scalers are kitchen hand tools that make quick work of removing scales from fish. They can be anything from motorized gadgets to simply the back of a knife. All fish scalers have some kind of ridged edge or sawtooth surface that acts as an abrasive to remove the scales from the fish skin. Fish scales are not typically eaten.

Take note: it is a messy job no matter what tool you use.

  • Stainless steel spring fish scale. (Amazon)
  • The grooved teeth on the springs provide good friction for removing fish scales.

  • Grooved sawtooth fish scaler (Amazon). 
  • All metal design with pointed teeth to remove fish scales.

  • Motorized Fish Scaler, Waterproof (Amazon).
  • Powered with a rechargeable batter, and a heavy duty option for cleaning lots of fish at one time.

Knives as Fish Scalers

While fish scaler tools are nifty, the back of a chef’s knife works just fine. Just hold the fish by the tail, and scrape along the fish from the back tail to the head. 

Making Your Own Fish Scaler

A quick and easy scaler can be fashioned with some scrap wood and some bottle caps. While the video below shows a nice paddle, you can also create one with just a scrap stick. Just make sure it is strong enough to handle several screws and thick enough to hold your bottle caps.


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Dana Point Fish Company is "hook up to plate up."