The first thing that I would look for in a good fishmonger is as you get near the shop and indeed when you get in the shop, it doesn’t smell of fish.
That may sound odd but fresh fish , properly iced should not smell. If the shop is kept pristine clean it will not smell either.
Experience and knowledge
Now the next thing I would be looking for is experienced and knowledgeable staff. Strike up a conversation by asking where the fish is from.
You want detail such as “the white crab meat is from North Uist” or “the hand-dived scallops are from Loch Broom”. As you get to know your fishmonger, you may garner that he has been in the trade since he left school.
These facts will give you the confidence to rely upon your fishmonger for advice on what to buy and when, what is sustainably caught and what’s best at this time of year.
Now the fish itself, if you’re happy to, pick it up and smell it, no smell, great.
Look at the eyes, clear and shiny and bright, great.
Look at the gills, bright red or pink, not dull or brown.
Most of the main species of fish are available all year round, seasonality is really about when things are at their best.
White fish such as haddock spawn between February and May and will not be at their best during that time, but the spawning varies all around the coast, so for a good fishmonger looking to buy the best for you, it should not be a major issue.
Availability and seasonality
Weather is the big factor in availability, when you look out of your window in winter and its blowing a hooley, you can be sure that at sea its far worse and the boats may not be out at all! Winter is a challenging time for fishermen and the fishtrade, whether trawling, dropping lobster pots or diving for scallops, bad weather is the enemy, sometimes with dire consequences.
Aquaculture, fish farming, has brought some help as a lot of species are farmed these days. Halibut, turbot, seabass and sea bream are all available year round. Unless the Channel Tunnel is closed as a lot of farmed fish comes from mainland Europe !
Oysters are cultivated these days, so the old adage of don’t eat them unless there’s an “R” in the month, doesn’t really apply these days (other than Native Oysters). There’s rather less magic in that phrase than you think, it’s just the four summer months !
The main thing is ask your fishmonger, if he’s good he’ll keep you right.