Fishmongers are responsible for preparing and subsequently selling fish and products which conventionally accompany fish.
Fishmongers are extremely skilled individuals who prepare and sell fish to members of the public. In the United Kingdom, we take it for granted that fish will arrive on our supermarket shelves or the refrigerated cabinets of our local fishmonger outlet in an aesthetically pleasing manner, which allows us to forget that the chunky fillet of cod frying in the pan was once a scaly, unpleasant inhabitant of the ocean. However, a lot of work goes into making sure that fish appears this way. Fishmongers spend a lot of time performing preparatory tasks, which may include removing scales and small bones. They will perform these tasks after initially collecting stock and storing it in a safe manner. They will then sell products to the customers and will often advise which are the best cuts of fish to suit particular needs and tastes.
Fishmongers used to have an important place in British society and their stores were a mainstay on every high street across the country. However, during recent years, fishmongers (in common with butchers and bakers) have been pushed aside by the increasing trend of supermarkets opening branches in small villages and towns. As such, many fishmongers now work at specialised fish counters in large supermarkets.
Fishmongers who are just starting out in the industry should expect to earn in the region of £11,000 to £14,000 per year. However, this figure, with some experience, could rise to £20,000 per year. The precise salary provided to a fishmonger will differ depending upon the nature of the employer. Fishmongers who own their own shops may earn significantly more per year but initial losses may be made whilst individuals are kept busy setting up the store and initiating advertising campaigns in the local area. Individuals who are considering becoming self-employed should be aware of the growing competition from large supermarkets who offer a wide range of fish and seafood products in their specialised fish counters.
The typical tasks performed by fishmongers include:
- Taking deliveries of fresh fish and placing orders
- Reviewing stock on a regular basis
- Finding reliable sources for fish and seafood
- De-scaling the fish and removing bones
- Gutting and cleaning the fish
- Cutting the fish into smaller pieces
- Arranging displays of fish in the counters
- Ensuring that the fish is stored properly at all times
- Dressing seafood products including crab
- Advising customers as to which products to purchase
- Advising customers how to store and cook fish properly
- Cleaning tools used on a regular basis
- Advertising in the local area
- Delivering fish to the homes of customers
No formal qualifications are needed for individuals wishing to become fishmongers. It is a matter of some frustration that there is no specific entry route into this industry but some organisations have attempted to rectify this issue. The Billingsgate Seafood Training School is currently offering individuals a free introductory seminar to the industry. The course is perfect for individuals who have never had any involvement with the trade and will provide invaluable practical experience. If you are interested in this course, you should be aware that it is only free subject to securing appropriate funding. Alternatively, you could pay the standard fee of £150.
Many individuals get into the industry straight after leaving school and progress through the ranks through hard work and the accumulation of appropriate skills. Apprenticeships are also a good option and popular with young people interested in entering the trade. Competition for places on apprenticeship schemes is usually very fierce so achieving good GCSE grades will stand you in good stead.
Fishmongers will need to possess the following skills:
- Good practical skills
- Good hand-eye co-ordination
- Physical stamina
- Good communication and interpersonal skills
- The ability to deal with members of the public
- The ability to handle complaints in a tactful manner
- Attention to detail
- The ability to cope with the sight of blood and fish innards
- Good numeracy skills
- A knowledge of advertising and business skills
- The ability to cope well under pressure
Fishmongers spend a lot of time working in conditions which are relatively cold and damp. Individuals will need to concentrate at all times, since work with sharp tools is common. Fishmongers also spend a lot of time on their feet, serving customers and moving between the storage areas and the front of the store. Most fishmongers work for approximately 40 hours per week but this usually includes having to work on Saturdays. However, to compensate for this fact, they will usually be given a day off during the conventional working week (usually a Monday). Fishmongers will often have to wake up very early to take deliveries of fresh fish and start preparation prior to store opening hours. The job is not particularly stressful and many fishmongers enjoy the work they do.
Since formal qualifications are not required to become a fishmonger, it is extremely useful to gain as much previous experience as possible prior to applying for a particular position. This will give you the edge over other individuals. You could ask for the opportunity to perform some unpaid work experience at your local fishmonger or simply ask to shadow an employee for a day or two. This will provide you with an invaluable glimpse into the reality of life as a fishmonger. Furthermore, any experience of working with your hands and food products will look good on a CV, as will any experience in a retail environment.
The major employers of fishmongers include:
- Large supermarkets
- Small, local fishmonger stores
- Market stalls
- Mobile fish traders
The skills learnt whilst working as a fishmonger will prepare individuals well for moving to other industries focused upon food preparation, including meat preparation. If fishmongers do not want to move into another career, they could change their working environment. For instance, those working in a large supermarket fish counter could choose to move to the mobile fish trade. This will involve more travel and provide more variety during a typical working day. Alternatively, fishmongers could become involved in supplying fishmonger stores with fresh fish. Work in a retail environment, such as a local shop, is also a possibility.
Karen has been running Fowey Fish, a fishmonger business in Cornwall since October 2000.Her parents started the business in April 1983 and it has been selling fish and fish products to members of the public ever since. Prior to taking over the business, she was a management accountant and spent five years working for Looe Fish Market and for a fish exporter there. She gained relevant experience by working for her parents during summer holidays when she was still at school and working with fish simply became second nature to her after a while.
During a typical day, Karen phones her contacts at the fish market as soon as she wakes up. She discusses availability, weather prospects, and other relevant matters, before travelling to work at around 8am. She starts work by preparing work sheets for her staff and organising mail orders and wholesale orders. She also organises payrolls, invoices, sales, accounts, and then makes sure that the shop is fully stocked with both fresh and dry goods. Karen also informs the staff of their tasks and provides them with information about the day’s stock so that they can pass on this information to the customers. She usually finishes work at about 4pm or 5pm. However, Karen usually takes paperwork home to do during the evenings.
Karen loves working for herself and choosing the hours she works to a large degree. This is particularly enjoyable during the cold winter months. She loves selling fresh fish to customers and her store also sells wonderful wine. However, Karen does not appreciate the anxiety which often arises when large customers do not pay their bills on time or in full. The personnel side of the business can often be tedious and another downside of the job is the general ignorance about the fishing industry and fishing methods which persists amongst members of the British public. Some people just cannot understand why she cannot guarantee a specific type of fish for their dinner party at the weekend!
With regards to career progression, Karen would consider working for a wine business as a wine buyer. Alternatively, she would consider teaching business studies or accountancy at a college. However, at the moment, Karen is happy to remain working in her current role. She is currently hoping that the credit crunch will not have too much of a negative impact upon her business. Since her store is located in a beautiful part of the country, many holiday-makers visit between Easter and October which should provide at least partial protection against the effects of the credit crunch.
Karen had some words of wisdom for those interested in becoming fishmongers. Individuals will really need to love food and cooking and be willing to deal with all kinds of people on a daily basis. Furthermore, potential employees will need to get used to the smell of fresh fish very quickly! Ultimately, individuals will need to have to want to work very hard on a daily basis and develop a tolerance towards difficult customers, including chefs!