The Fishmongers of Manhattan

Encore: April 16, 2013

Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism student, Salima Koroma, reports on difficulties faced by a third generation fishmonger family.

The first time I walked into the Pisacane fish shop in midtown Manhattan, the smell of seafood was so overwhelming I nearly turned right back out the door.

It takes a few minutes to get used to but eventually the smell becomes overpowered by the colors: bright pink and silver fish heads—tilapia, striped sea bass, red snapper, monkfish, and even octopus— clandestinely peek out of the mounds of ice, waiting to go home with the next customer. Brothers Frank and Paul Enea, the owners of the seafood store, yell out delivery orders and keep an eye on the workers slicing fish on the chopping blocks.

“Sometimes, all I think about is fish,” Paul Enea told me, a sentiment that was later echoed by his brother in the video.

The Eneas are third generation Italian fishmongers whose family has been in the seafood business since the early 1960s. Their father Joseph made a lot of money selling fish, something his sons say is hard to do today, with overfishing, climate change, pollution and stringent government regulations make financial success today unlikely.

The fish business is tough now, the sons told me. So tough that their children have no interest in taking over the shop.

I wanted to see if any other fishmongers were having trouble passing on their businesses to their children. I visited the Fulton Fish Market in Hunt’s Point, one of the largest seafood markets in the world.

Frank Minio, president of the fish market and owner of Smitty’s Fillet House, predicted that in his family, the fishing business would end its line with him. “We’ll probably sell the shop,” he lamented. “I have a daughter and I don’t want her in this business for anything. It’s too many hours, too hard a living.”

I can vouch for the terrible hours. To catch the market’s normal workday, I had to wake up at one in the morning, so it’s easy to understand why some of the younger generation don’t want any part of it. One of Pisacane’s former employees, 26 year-old Joe LaSpina, explained that it’s more than just the bad hours that make the industry so difficult.

“Sometimes the smell will get under your fingernails,” he recalled with a grimace. “I had to take the bus home and have the back of the bus all to myself.”

But as Frank Enea’s daughter, Dominique Padovano, who is a vascular sonographer, explained, “Fish is money, that’s what I always say […] The smell of fish is the smell of money.”

The Enea brothers haven’t made up their minds about what will happen to the Pisacane fish shop when they retire. For now they’re simply waiting for the day when, for the first time in 50 years, they’ll have to decide to give the shop to someone who isn’t an Enea.


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