I know fishing was pretty popular in the Middle Ages, but I don't know how many people could be fed by a single fisher.

I'd mostly like to know about river fishing, but I'm also interested in sea fishing. I'm thinking about small villages with local fishing to ensure food supply.


  • Period: Early Middle Ages
  • Location: Small isolated villages (~250 people)
  • Environment: Large rivers with plenty of fish

I'm looking for an average number (don't take the competition factor into account).

  • 8
    This would certainly depend on the quality of the fishery versus the number of competing fisherman and technology (and by extension time period/location).
    – Semaphore
    Commented Jul 10, 2015 at 8:48
  • 1
    Geography? Culture and food habits play an important role. In "watery" regions more fish would be eaten. Would this not be a supply side determinant?
    – Rajib
    Commented Jul 10, 2015 at 16:25
  • 2
    From what I have been told of the 1900's and 1910's in the Pyrenees (traditional society with little contact to the outside world) diet was not based on, but complemented by fishing. In the MA, for religious reasons fish was a necessary part of the diet (Fridays, Lent...). But the basic diet seems to have been based on agriculture (grain, replaced by potatoes in the XVI-XVII centuries), with fishing as a complement specifically for protein since little meat was available to large strata of society.
    Commented Jul 11, 2015 at 10:29
  • 2
    I believe that competition between fishermen begins when the number exceeds 1.
    – MCW
    Commented Jul 13, 2015 at 10:37
  • 1
    @MarkC.Wallace: Definition of a sailboat race: Two or more sailboats not going in diametrically opposite directions. Commented Jul 13, 2015 at 21:26

1 Answer 1


In the year 1289, King Philip IV of France was worried about fish. “Each and every watershed of our realm,” he proclaimed, “large and small, yields nothing due to the evil of fishers.”

(The Atlantic (2019)

The medieval period is much too long to provide a definitive answer to your question. Besides, there often wasn't such a thing as 'a single fisher'. Often enough, you'd see fishing villages, villages that exported fish. Or fishing guilds. Fishing families. Especially seaside when requiring a boat to fish. You don't operate a fishing boat by yourself. When setting fishing traps and weirs with a group of people, how much was caught by whom?

When you consider river fish, you probably won't catch the same fish year-round. During the summer months, salmon moves up the river to spawn. The more watermills were built, the less salmon was caught.

Some of what we know about medieval fishery comes from the area of Colchester (UK), near the river Colne and relatively near the Channel. There has been fishery in all kinds of forms since at least 800 AD, years later they even had their own oysters. In (and after) the late medieval period, small wars have been fought about fishing rights and over-fishing there. If you're looking for historical records, I'd think that area to be a good start. Perhaps the Domesday Book has usable information for you as well.

How much fish they'd actually catch would depend on many factors, among which the amount of organization, their tools used (hooks, nets and traps were already used quite extensively in some places during the middle medieval period) and the local fish-population (which would vary quite a bit).

In the end, it matters not. You ask:

But I don't know how many people could be fed by a single fisher?

Not many. If fish would be all they ate, they'd eventually die of malnutrition. They would require bread as well. So you'd need a farmer, and hunter/gatherers both for hunting mammals/fowl and gathering fruit/vegetables.

  • In Portugal I heard there were seasonal Salmon on rivers there in the Middle Ages. Apparently it was much more widespread than today.
    – Luiz
    Commented Oct 29, 2020 at 13:41

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