Sign of the times: fish markets report lower sales during Lent

The story from New Jersey:

Leigh Finley was acting like a kid in a candy store, or a traditional Catholic at a fish market during Lent.

Scallops, monkfish, shrimp, salmon and other seafood items piled up on the counter here at the Lobster House Fish Market. Finley drove here from Cumberland County on Tuesday just to do her fish shopping for Friday’s dinner.

“I have a big family and we’re Irish Catholic,” Finley, 42, of Vineland, explained.

Click here for a gallery of photographs

It’s the Lenten season, and for the Finley family that means no meat on Fridays as an act of penitence. The religious tradition observed from Ash Wednesday to Easter dates back centuries.

“I think it’s a good tradition. Jesus did his fasting. I think it teaches you discipline and sacrifice. That’s all Lent is about. It’s good for the kids. These days they get so much. They’re spoiled rotten. It’s good to sacrifice and give something up,” Finley said.

It’s also good for the seafood business, which happens to be a huge part of the southern New Jersey economy. The problem is: Fewer Catholics are observing the old traditions.

“It’s not like it was in the past. Ash Wednesday years ago was one of the biggest days of the year. As the population gets older and people die off, the new generation isn’t following the rules like they did,” said Al D’Amato, the day manager at the seafood market.

D’Amato recalls customers even shunning some of the chowders because they have bacon in them. He rarely gets those kinds of questions anymore.

The decline of Lent seafood sales also has been noted at Viking Village in Barnegat Light.

“I don’t think it’s as big as it used to be. Our sales are better because of Lent, a little bit, but it’s not the high-end stuff,” said Viking Village Manager Ernie Panecek.

One reason is because seafood has become a specialty item these days. For centuries, it was a cheap alternative to beef, pork, chicken and other meats. Buying something that is as expensive as sirloin just doesn’t seem like a sacrifice.

“It’s become more of a specialty item than a Lent item,” Panecek said.

Still, Panecek said the tradition is alive and some take advantage of the market. He said he gets Lent orders from as far away as Canada.

“McDonald’s has a special this time of year. Buy one fish sandwich and get one free. They have it every year during Lent,” Panecek said.

The church itself could be one reason for the decline in observing penance. Older Catholics remember when they were told not to eat meat on Fridays all year long.

“As a Catholic school girl, I remember one girl eating a hot dog on a Friday and I was very upset about that. We never ate meat on Friday,” said Margaret Reyes, 70, of North Cape May, who was shopping at the Lobster House.

Reyes bought flounder and salmon, but admitted she no longer strictly follows the observance. If she is eating at a restaurant on a Friday and wants meat, she orders it.

“You don’t feel you’re going to hell if you eat meat on a Friday,” Reyes said.

Read more.


  1. When I was growing up no one ate meat on Fridays even after the Church changed the rule. It was just a part of the rythym of our days. It was usually pizza night for the kids though not fish.

  2. I really like the discipline and have begun doing it voluntarily. Just telling yourself that you can’t have something specific on Friday, like a hamburger or a steak, even if you are having something equally appealing, makes you realize that you are doing something different. However, I do agree that fish seems less of a sacrifice when it is actually a pricey delicacy. So, I usually go vegetarian on Fridays. To me, that’s serious!

  3. We are not allowed fish during Lent except on the Feast of the Assumption and Palm Sunday. Neither of which really helps me as I am not a big seafood guy. :-(

  4. Vox borealis says:

    The church itself could be one reason for the decline in observing penance. Older Catholics remember when they were told not to eat meat on Fridays all year long.


  5. Catherine says:

    So that’s what Al D’Amato is doing these days. Who knew?

  6. I don’t know about others, but I’m eating more fish. But we’ve been cutting back on meat in general. So far I have not screwed up yet this lent on eating meat on Fridays. I’m so absent minded I forget. I’ve also lost five pounds so far this lent, and that’s a lot for me. I’m hoping for ten pounds by Easter!

  7. “fish seems less of a sacrifice when it is actually a pricey delicacy.” Coiuldn’t agree more. We eat omelets, pancakes, tuna-potato pancakes and we suport the Church fish fries. We put aside money that we may have spent eating out aside for the food bank.

  8. The laws of abstinence have been changed in recent years to raise the minimum age to 14, so that’s a lot fewer tuna sandwiches in lunch bags and fish sticks on the Friday night dinner table, especially when families don’t necessarily eat together. And as a friend of mine asks, What’s penitential about a restaurant lobster dinner? And fish fries have become less about the fish and more about the gambling; in this area, parishes are moving toward Saturday-night Lenten fish fries that offer sausage as an alternative, to bring in more folks and raise more money.

    Here in the midwest, Friday restaurant specials are still meatless, but they’re often fishless too–vegetarian or vegan. It’s not just a trend away from religious practice; it’s also a trend toward getting fewer calories from animal proteins all year, for health and economic reasons.

  9. A son works at BK, and he says fish sales on Fridays in Lent jump notably, and–get this–that some folks there don’t know why.

  10. Friday is still a penitential day, even outside of Lent, so I find it best just to keep the meatless Fridays all year. Even though I’m not a big meat eater, it never fails: every Friday I seem to crave meat far more than I would when I’m not abstaining from it.

    But let’s face it, few of us, self included, really experience hard fasting outside of maybe Ash Wed and Good Friday. Even those days, if you eat the right kind of foods, like oatmeal of something with a low glycemix index, don’t really leave one feeling too “hungry.”

    One year I gave up ice, no calories, no personal benefi as in a slimmer waistlinet, and it was actually very hard, as I love ice in my water that I drink all day long.

    A real fast for me is eating more undesirable foods simply to sustain me, with no flavor benefit. A good example would be plain oatmeal, tuna fish, and maybe a butterless baked potato and a piece of fruit.

  11. I’m not eating meat all of Lent, but I’m not eating fish as a substitute either (my fish consumption has gone down). Correlation does not imply causality. Just because less fish is being eaten, does not necessarily mean fewer Catholics are abstaining from meat, particularly in these economic times.

    So why do we go there so fast? To the assumption that (other) Catholics are less faithful. I read an essay earlier in Lent about fasting from criticism and from judging others. It’s given me something to chew on with my cheese, bread, fruit and yogurt.

  12. Katie Angel says:

    I would also echo several of the comments above – I abstain from meat on Friday but don’t necessarily eat fish. For me, fish isn’t really fasting or abstaining because it is something i eat and enjoy year round. Instead, I will take this day to eat as a vegan – giving up cheese and dairy as well as animal protein – because to me that is truly a penance.

  13. Fish has gotten significantly more expensive, particularly the fresh variety. Restaurants and families now typically serve or eat farmed fish and shrimp. This isn’t a commentary on Lent as it is a commentary on the rise of aquaculture.

  14. Hi Klaire, I started working on my numerous faults with Advent this year and with Blessed Mary’s help have come a long way. Of course I have ten thousand more miles to go, but that’s beside the point. Since I don’t care one way or the other about sweets, and figure food is a traditional venue for Lent, I’ve cut back tasty food and actually enjoy eating much less because I don’t think about it any more. I gave up my Kindle Fire and have been reading the Old Testament (I’m up to Samuel 2) and find it fascinating, a page turner. In other words, penance isn’t penance once you get into it.

  15. Just had a tunafish sandwich for lunch. :-P

  16. Manny,
    Me, too. But, then again, I have tuna fish just about every day for lunch. (It’s low in carbs.)

  17. Good for you Joan! You’re a great example for all of us (and also smart to realize how much the Mother of God is there to help us if we only ask).

    You will not only be a lot healthier spirutally eating less, but also in physical health. Eating less rocks if we can actually do it.

  18. Definitely healthy. Are you worried about mercury levels with eating it every day? I love tuna fish but I’m concerned about the mercury. Should I be?

  19. I’m telling you Klaire, she really really listens. She really really helps. I can do absolutely NOTHING right without her!! :)


  1. [...] a table full of this as a "penitential", unless it's being served at Red Lobster.The Good Deacon finds a story about Lent and fish from my home state of South Jersey. (I’m working hard on [...]

Leave a Comment