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A fishmonger at Seattle's Pike Place Fish Market.
Two fishmongers look at swordfish and tuna loins. Notice the tuna "coffins" the loins rest on.

A fishmonger (fishwife for women practitioners - "wife" in this case used in its archaic meaning of "woman") is someone who sells fish and seafood. In some countries modern supermarkets are replacing fishmongers who operate in shops or markets.

Fishmongers can be wholesalers or retailers, and are trained at selecting and purchasing, handling, gutting, boning, filleting, displaying, merchandising and selling their product. In many places fishmongers, like butchers, are a dying breed. With the advent of many modern ways of distributing and packaging food, supermarkets often opt for less expensive alternatives to these trained, highly skilled professionals.

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Worshipful Company of Fishmongers

The fishmongers were one of the earliest guilds established in the City of London, being granted a Royal Charter by Edward I. Partnership with foreigners was forbidden and the sale of fish was tightly controlled to ensure freshness and restrain profit, which was limited to one penny in the shilling. Nevertheless, the guild grew rich and, after Edward's victory over the Scots, was able to make a great show, including one thousand mounted knights.[1]

During the reign of Edward II, the political power of the fishmongers waned and Parliament decreed that no fishmonger could become mayor of the city. This was soon rescinded though and their wealth increased further so that, during the reign of Edward III, the guild could provide £40 to the war against the French, this being a great sum at that time.[1]

The guild was then reformed by Great Charter as the Mystery of the Fishmongers of London. They were given a monopoly over the crying and selling of fish and they regulated the catching of fish in the Thames which teemed with fish such as salmon at that time.[1] The guild still continues today as one of the Great Twelve City Livery Companies.

Fishmongers in culture

Fishmongers (with their backs to us) sell fish to bus passengers in Balykchy, Kyrgyzstan

In Shakespeare's Hamlet, some contend that the word fishmonger was a euphemism for a "fleshmonger," or pimp.[1][2]

In the English translation of the Asterix series, the village fishmonger is called Unhygienix. In the film The Beach, the Island's chef has only fish as a source of meat, and is named Unhygienix in reference to the Asterix character.

Charles Fort in his book Lo! compiles the story of the Mad Fishmonger or "St. Fishmonger", which later appears in the Schrödinger's Cat Trilogy by Robert Anton Wilson. St. Fishmonger allegedly caused crabs and periwinkles to fall from the sky.

In many countries, the fishwife was proverbial for her sharp tongue and outspoken speech. In Medieval France, the ones in Paris were known for their special privilege of being able to speak frankly to the King himself, when he ventured into the marketplace, and voice criticism without fear of punishment.

Historic fishmongers

References

  1. ^ a b c John Timbs (1865), "Curiosities of the Fishmongers' Hall", Walks and talks about London, Lockwood, http://books.google.com/books?id=wbguAAAAMAAJ  







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