Fish Leather – A Unique Leather Type

Only a few fashion enthusiasts think about sourcing leather from fish. Nevertheless, fish leather is one of the exotic leather pieces in the leather crafting industry.

With increasing awareness and demand for more sustainable and fashionable leather, fish leather is gradually becoming a mainstay in the fashion industry. Besides its rarity, many other factors make fish leather one of the priciest leather types in the fashion world.

In this article, you will find precise and smart answers to the most commonly asked questions about fish leather. You will also discover the truth about widely held misconceptions about working with fish leather. Finally, we will explore fish leather uses and the pros and cons of working with this leather hide.

Fish Skin Leather

What is fish leather?

Fish leather is the type of leather derived from the skin of aquatic fish. It is a sustainable alternative to conventional leather choices. However, fish leather might be thinner than regular hide, but its high tensile strength and durability are worth giving a damn.

Although not common as regular mammalian hide, fish leather is suitable for making a wide range of finished leather products. Some of the most common fish leather types include:

  • Salmon
  • Tilapia
  • Cod
  • Sturgeon
  • Shark
  • Stingray
  • Wolffish

Characteristics of Fish Leather

Fish leather is an attractive piece handy for several leather crafts and is pretty durable. Some of the most notable qualities of fish leather include the following:

Workable Size: Excluding a few larger fish species, fish leather is usually small. Most fish skin is rarely up to one square foot. Therefore, manufacturers must staple several pieces of fish skin together to get larger workable sizes. However, fish like sharks and catfishes are often large enough to yield large workable sizes of fish leather.

Thickness: Fish leather is naturally thin compared to regular hide. The thickness of fish leather usually ranges from 0.5-1mm. The thickness of any fish skin usually depends on the age and species of fish. However, swordfish, monkfish, whale and sharks are known to have the thickest skins.

Surface Texture: The scaling on fish leather leaves it with beautiful smooth patterns, often similar to snake and alligator skins. The size and pattern of the scale on fish skin differ across fish species. However, this patterning results in a unique, exotic appearance.

Color: Fish leather is available in a wide range of natural colors. The color and shade of fish skin varies across different species. However, the most common fish leather colors include black, tan, red, blue, teal, and orange.

Flexibility: Fish leather is very flexible! Besides the delicate nature, it contains many natural oils that make it pliable.

Rarity: Fish leather is less readily available than regular mammalian hide. It is only produced in smaller quantities and is very expensive in most cases. Fish leather manufacturers are also less prevalent than regular leather hide workers.

Smell: Fish skin contains natural oils and substances that give it a unique pungent odor. However, manufacturers strip fish leather of these substances during the tanning process. Therefore, finished fish leather smells just like regular hide.

Durability: Despite its delicate nature, fish leather is very durable. The crisscross pattern of fish leather fibers gives it a tensile strength of up to 90 newtons. Also, the natural oil content in this particular leather help protects it from drying up and cracking.

Maintenance: Fish leather is relatively easy to care for and maintain, unlike many exotic leather types. Most finished fish leather pieces carry a natural matte finish, and you can treat them like regular hides.

Waterproofness: Fish leather is relatively waterproof, and its tightly packed fiber structure helps to lock out moisture and humidity. Additionally, manufacturers coat fish leather with an acrylic finish during the tanning stage to make it more waterproof.

Read Also: Crocodile Leather

fish leather products

How to make Fish Leather?

Since fish leather differs from regular hides, many often wonder, “How is fish leather made?” Converting natural fish skin into finished leather pieces involves six distinct stages. These include:

Harvesting: The fish is harvested from a wide range of sources. In addition to fish farms, fish leather manufacturers also source fish skin from commercial fishing lines and local fish markets.

Preparation: The harvested fish skin is then readied for tanning. The fish’s skin is stripped of its scales and other fatty substances during this stage. Other natural elements that will affect the quality of finished fish leather are removed during this stage.


You should know that fish hides also undergo tanning to preserve them from purification. The tanning process for fish leather is similar to regular leather hides. There are different types of tanning methods for fish leather. The most common fish leather tanning methods include:

Chrome tanning: Chrome tanning is one of the most common tanning methods in the leather industry. Kindly note that chrome-tanned leather hides are usually subjected to chromium sulfate, a primary agent for chrome tanning. Impressively, this method of tanning is relatively cheap and usually completed in one day.

Vegetable tanning: Vegetable tanning is the most eco-friendly tanning process in the leather industry. It involves using natural pigments from plant life. Most of the common tannings used for vegetable tanning are sourced from plants such as oak, chestnut, willow, and birch.

Fat tanning: Fat tanning involves the use of organic fat-rich substances from animals. These substances include bone marrow, sebum, and even fish oil. This technique remains one of the oldest methods of preserving leather. Fat tanning increases the durability of fish leather pieces and offers them more protection against natural elements.


After tanning, the hides are often dyed – during this stage, the fish leather is impregnated with the preferred dyes and pigments to color the material. Most leather artisans may dye the fish leather during the primary tanning process, but treating the dying process as a separate stage is more common when dealing with large amounts of fish leather.


Now, leatherworkers focus on drying the leather hide using the proper techniques. Fish leather must retain its shape after the drying stage. Therefore, many manufacturers staple them to a board to prevent fish leather from folding up while it dries.


Finally, the fish leather is coated with a protective finish. Most manufacturers use an acrylic finish to make the fish leather more waterproof. Fish leather can also be coated with various finishes to alter their visual appearance.

What is Fish Leather used for?

Fish leather is used to create a wide range of finished leather products. Besides making ornaments, decorative pieces, and accessories like fish leather wallets, purses, knife sheaths, and bracelets, it is also suitable for making fish leather shoes, bags, and belts.

Additionally, there are lots of exclusive fish leather clothing brands. These fashion brands specialize in fish leather jackets, boots, and hats.

Read Also: Chicken Leather

How to Care for Fish Leather

Leather care and maintenance are crucial in preserving your treasured pieces, ensuring they last long for an extended period. Impressively, caring for fish leather products is relatively easy – you only need to clean it with a dry cloth most time. Nevertheless, here are a few helpful tips to retain the beauty and quality of fish leather products for an extended period.

  • When dusting any fish leather piece, it is advisable to move the cloth in the direction of the scales to avoid bruising the surface of the leather. You can also use a soft-bristled, clean brush to remove any dirt stuck between the fish scales.
  • You could clean the fabric with a damp cloth if you are trying to get tough stains off fish leather. However, you must avoid soaking the fabric with excess moisture. By now, you should know that when leather gets wet, it is further exposed to several damages – excess moisture will cause the fish leather to dry out and start to crack.
  • Drying off liquid stains on fish leather immediately after any spill is crucial. Use a soft cloth to dab on the spot gently, and avoid wiping over the stain to prevent smudging the fish leather. You could also dip the cloth in a mild soapy mix to deal with tough stains.
  • Additionally, you can deal with grease or oil stains on leather items made from fish hides by covering the spot with some cornstarch and leaving it overnight. The starch will soak up the grease and allow you to remove such discoloration with a soft brush.
  • It would help also protect your fish leather pieces from direct sunlight and extreme heat. Exposure to UV rays from sunlight will cause the color of the fish leather to fade quickly, and extreme heat will also dry out fish leather and make it brittle.
  • Store your fish leather pieces in a cool, dry place. Keeping those in a damp place could result in moldy and mildew growth on the material’s surface, causing it to lose quality. The best place to store your fish leather piece is in a less humid room with sufficient ventilation.
  • Finally, you should treat fish leather with a leather conditioner. Use a soft microfiber cloth to gently spread mink oil or leather conditioner products over the surface of the fish leather piece.
  • Leave the conditioner to dry for about 15 minutes before buffing it with a dry, clean cloth. You could settle for any exotic leather conditioner or a silicon spray, but silicon sprays tend to dry leather fabrics, so you should apply them sparingly.

Pros of Fish Leather

There are several advantages of leatherworking with fish leather. Besides its wide range of adaptability, this special leather offers many benefits beyond the leather industry.

Key benefits of working with fish leather include:

Sustainability: Most manufacturers obtain fish skin as a byproduct from the fishing industry. Therefore, it positively impacts our ecosystem in several ways. Research proves that for every 2,000 pounds of filleted fish consumed, about a hundred pounds of fish skin is generated.

Turning fish skin into finished leather products prevents the indiscriminate disposal of the material. This way, manufacturers reduce the prevalence of toxic landfills. Most fish skin also contains significant levels of chromium. Therefore, working with fish leather rather than dumping them in water bodies reduces the chromium levels in water bodies.

Durability: Finished fish leather skin is about ten times as strong as lamb or calfskin of the same thickness. It is among the exotic types of shoe leather. Unlike mammalian hide, the fiber structure of fish skin is in a crisscross pattern.

This unique structure gives fish leather ample resistance against wear and makes it suitable for a wide range of finished leather products. Additionally, tanning fish leather makes it almost impossible to tell it apart from regular leather hides.

Workability: Compared to regular hide, fish leather is easier to work with. The skin readily absorbs dyes and pigments during the tanning process. About 80% of the natural color of fish skin is contained in the scales. Scraping off the scales on fish skin results in a neutral-colored hide that easily blends with various colors.

Maintenance: Fish leather is easier to maintain when compared to other exotic leather types. Besides protecting fish leather pieces from moisture, you only need to treat them with a suitable leather conditioner to keep them in great shape.

Cons of Fish Leather

Working with fish leather poses a few difficulties. Some of these challenges include:

Size: The major drawback of fish leather is its small size. Unlike mammalian hide, which yields large leather portions, manufacturers must join several fish leather pieces to make it sizeable.

Overfishing: Some fish leather pieces are pretty pricey; hence, many local fishers tend to overfish such species for their skin. Overfishing leads to the depletion of the natural dwellers of specific marine habitats and messes up the natural ecosystem. Without adequate regulation, the existence of specific fish species becomes threatened.

Cost: Fish leather is pricey for several reasons. Converting natural fish skin into finished fish leather is more demanding than treating regular hide. Therefore, only a few manufacturers are dealing in fish leather.

Again, some fish species are seasonal migrators and are only available at specific times of the year. These factors combine to make fish leather one of the most expensive leather hides in the industry.

Frequently Asked Questions – FAQs

Why is fish leather so expensive?

Several factors make fish leather quite pricey. First, rearing fish for their skin is more demanding than raising common livestock. They require more conditioning and treatment to ensure healthy development. Secondly, the treatment of fish skin is more complicated than treating mammalian hide.

Manufacturers must first strip the fish skin of its natural oils to rid it of its natural odor before treating it with other chemicals to make it suitable for finished leather products. Also, unlike mammalian hide, manufacturers require many fish skin to make a sizeable fabric.

Finally, the regular hide is more common than fish leather. There are only so many brands that deal in fish leather production. This rarity also contributes to driving up the cost of fish leather pieces.

How durable is fish leather?

Contrary to popular belief, fish leather is surprisingly durable. Fish skin undergoes an extensive treatment that takes up to a month. The fish scales are removed during this stage, and the leather is then tanned and coated with preservatives to make it durable and wear resistant.

The finished fish leather is just like the finished mammalian hide at the end of this treatment. Fish leather can also be used just like other types of leather skins.

Which fish produces quality leather?

Fish leather is sourced from a wide variety of fish skin. You would find that the quality of any fish skin depends on the size of the fish, its natural habitat, and its thickness. However, salmon skin easily tops the list of quality fish leather.

Besides its availability, its naturally smooth and refined texture makes it a clear favorite for many fish leather manufacturers. Additionally, the wide range of colors in which salmon skin is available makes it the first choice of many designers.

Is fish skin leather waterproof?

Fish skin leather is waterproof, but this quality is not due to the biological composition of fish skin – natural fish skin is quite porous. This feature allows fish to regulate their body functions by absorbing and discharging water whenever needed.

However, fish leather is made waterproof during the processing stage; manufacturers treat fish skin with special coatings to make the leather waterproof. However, it would help keep your fish leather pieces away from moisture. You can apply a suitable leather conditioner to your fish leather pieces to keep the leather in good shape.

What is another name for fish leather?

Like many curious fashion enthusiasts, you might ask, “What is fish skin leather called?” Fish leather goes by several names in the leather crafting industry. One of the most common names for fish leather is cod leather.

However, this common nomenclature often leads to the erroneous assumption that all fish leather is obtained from cod fish. You should know that fish leather is not only sourced from the skins of cod fish but also from sharks and stingrays. So, you may also find leather workers refer to fish skin as sharkskin.

Final Words

Fish leather hides are durable and easy to maintain; it is suitable for making lots of finished leather products. While fish leather is the key to creating a more sustainable leather industry, there is a need for more awareness and investment in fish leather production since only a few people know about this leather type.

Impressively, fish leather provides various design options with advantages for the environment, including its ecology-friendly manufacturing method and biodegradable characteristics. You can read through this enlightening piece to learn more about fish leather.

Evina Naomi

Ewofere, Evina Naomi is a biotechnologist and passionate content writer. As a great lover of leather and various leather crafts, she broadly addresses leather-related issues. She is a writer of many excellent articles on leather. With great knowledge and enthusiasm, readers can access researched pieces on various leather types and the best techniques that work on them. Naomi is here to lead you through the journey of choosing excellent leather products and ensure you handle them rightly. So you can embark on your leather sewing and crafting journey with her and have an incredible experience.

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