This is one of the topics which is continually cropping up in connection with the fishing industry in Australia. It is noteworthy, too, that the middleman in some shape or form appears to be part of the system of fish selling in every part of the world. At Billingsgate, where they are termed "bummarees," it is stated that they fulfil a useful office in that they act as distributors to the small costermongers, who could hardly get along without them. The "bummarees" watch the market and speculate accordingly, and it must be urged for them that they run great risks from the unexpected arrival of a large amount of fish with a consequent glut in the market. But the "bummarees" pure and simple are comparatively few. Their ranks, however, are swelled in the following way : A salesman, having disposed of his own fish, will "bummaree" for the sake of the possible profit, or a fishmonger, having purchased a double supply for a cheaper price, will "bummaree" half his purchase.
In France the procedure is different. First of all there is an agent termed an ecoreur, deputed by various persons and armed with purchasing power, who is ready to buy the fisherman's catch at once. This simplifies matters wonderfully for the fisherman, who gets ready money and has no further bother. Next, from the ecoreur the fish is bought by the moreyeur, or trader, who despatches it to Paris and the other large cities. Thus, so far, the fish, after leaving the fisherman, has passed through two hands, those of the ecoreur, and those of the moreyeur. After this it has to face a most unjust tax - the octroi - by which all provisions are specially taxed before entering the "barriers" of any French city or town. Hence the initiated, when travelling in France, often reside on the outskirts of a town, just outside the barrier, where the cost of living is reduced by one-third. On arriving at the markets the fish is publicly disposed of by the facteurs a la criee, or auctioneers, who of course are paid for their trouble. Lastly, it is bought for sale to the public by the poissarde, or fishwife. And thus we see from the time of leaving the water till finally it reaches the unfortunate public the fish has passed through no less than six levies, that by the fisherman, the agent, the trader, the octroi (i.e. the city toll or town due), the auctioneer, and, finally, that by the fishwife or costermonger.
Having thus explained the system pursued in England and in France respectively, it will be interesting to refer briefly to the different methods with regard to the disposal of fish practised in the Woolloomooloo, the Redfern, and the Melbourne Fish Markets. At the former, the sales are conducted by Mr. Richard Seymour, the inspector and auctioneer of the fish market - with other auctioneers - who act directly from the Sydney Municipal Council; the Redfern markets are conducted by the Messrs. Hudson; while in Melbourne there are licensed auctioneers, who pay for the privilege.
But to return to our middleman, upon whom the whole controversy centres. Indeed, the discussion over him in Melbourne, not so long ago, might be said to have reached to a white-heat phase. But the premises on which the arguments were based were so hopelessly conflicting that it was impossible to logically settle the point. It was claimed, on the one hand, that the price the fishermen received was cruelly small in comparison with that which the public had to pay. On the other, the contention was that the price paid to the fishermen was fairly satisfactory, and that the public obtained comparatively cheap fish. We have seen, however, what takes place in other parts of the world, and, indeed, every one must admit that there is a remarkable difference between the price which the fisherman gets and that which the public have to pay. Between these two extremes there is an inordinate disparity, and the difficulty is to connect the two together - to bring to light the leakage - and to find out who is living both on the fisherman and the public at one and the same time.
On this point a recent Fisheries Report of Victoria says: - " The solution of the very important question of "providing a larger and cheaper fish supply for the masses "rests mainly in the hands of the public. The present high "prices are maintained in virtue of a monopoly which can
"be only successfully combated by the initiation of a
"healthy trade competition or a more open fish market.
"The fishermen, under existing auspices, reap but a small
"share of the retail produce of their takings, such being
"further reduced by the high rates for transport they are
"called upon to pay. In this last-named direction some
"relief might be afforded by the institution, if necessary by
"Act of Parliament, of a uniform tariff for the carriage
"of fish by road and rail throughout the colony."