On The Job

This 53-year-old 'fish mongress' earns $200,000 a year: 'You just do what needs to be done'

Making $200,000 a year selling fresh fish in New England
Making $200,000 a year selling fresh fish in New England

Laura Foley Ramsden's passion for fish is in her DNA.

The 53-year-old is a fourth-generation fish mongress in Massachusetts. Her great-grandfather founded Foley Fish back in 1906, and it's been in the family since. Ramsden and her husband bought it from her parents in 2004.

Though they sold the company to specialty food distributor Chefs' Warehouse in 2021, Ramsden and her husband remain actively involved with the business her family started.

Laura Foley Ramsden
Shawn Baldwin | CNBC Make It

Over the years, Rasmden has played a role in nearly every aspect of the Foley Fish business, from packing fish to building a social media presence. Her annual salary started at $23,000 fresh out of college, and she earned $200,000 in 2021, when the company sold. Her official title was most recently VP of sales, but she's better known as the fish mongress.

Though the world has changed a lot since her great-grandfather started selling fish, Ramsden says the business still looks pretty similar: "We're really just focused on getting the fish off the boat cut, packed as quickly as possible and turned back around to our customers."

'You just do what needs to be done'

Ramsden clocked her first hours for Foley Fish during the summer she was 15. "I worked one day packing fish, making boxes, opening tins, and I thought it was really cold and really long and really awful and told my dad I changed my mind and I wanted to be a bus girl after all at a restaurant."

But her dad told her Foleys don't quit. His words stuck: Aside from a brief stint in public relations, she's been with the company ever since.

Grateful to her parents for making her work on the plant floor, Ramsden has learned about nearly every role within the business. From packing and shipping to shoveling ice, she's gained a variety of skills out of necessity.

"When you run a small business, you just do what needs to be done," she says.

Being a woman in the fish industry

Many assume the company's head fishmonger would be male. People have even gone so far as to ask if Ramsden's brothers would be the ones to take over the family business. But this was the path she wanted, and she's proud to be a woman in a male-dominated industry. 

"When my mom joined the business, she was the fish mongress. And so then when my husband and I bought the business, I was the fish mongress," she says.

Ramsden hasn't had problems as a woman in a male-dominated industry, she says. She's armed herself with information and experience to be a resource and collaborator for her male colleagues.

Laura Foley Ramsden handles a fish.
Shawn Baldwin | CNBC Make It

And being a fish mongress has never meant less work for her than a man would take on. In Ramsden's role, every day can look different depending on what needs to get done, from package design to product evaluations.

"In a small business, you're kind of wearing a lot of hats, and as a fish mongress, I definitely wear a lot of hats," she says.

The next chapter

Though selling the company has meant taking a small step back from the fish business, Ramsden plans to stay involved in the industry and with Chefs' Warehouse.

She will also continue her involvement with the Massachusetts Marketing Council for Local Species and other partnerships she has developed over the years.

Whether it's cooking scallops for her family or advocating for sustainable fishing, Ramsden's passion for fish remains a part of her everyday life. "They might want to kick me out the door, but I really I love it," she says.

"I'm staying a fish mongress. I'm not jumping ship to the meat people and I'm not becoming a golfer."

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