Fish market caters to tourists as well as seafood buyers
Getting up at 5:30 a.m. to visit a fish market is probably not on everyone’s list of things to do on holiday, yet once a fortnight throughout the summer, around 20 intrepid tourists sign up for a tour of the market in Brixham, U.K. (pictured, file photo courtesy Chris Talbot).
Brixham is England’s largest port, landing more than GBP 26 million (USD 40.8 million, EUR 35.74 million) worth of fish each year, and its market was made famous in the Sky Atlantic TV series “Fish Town,” which has reached audiences all over the world.
“Does your fish eating experience extend to just cod, haddock, salmon and mackerel? Then the Brixham Fish Market tour is for you, where you could see over 40 different types of fish at the auctions,” promises the advert on the tourist board website.
“It works; it appeals to people’s sense of curiosity, and there is usually a waiting list,” explained Barry Young, director of Brixham Trawler Agents and chief auctioneer at the market.
“When we started doing the tours a few years ago, it was for a handful of local people interested in finding out what happened here, but now we get people from Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, America and all over Europe, and it’s great to find out that we are so well known!” he exclaimed.
Once the white coats, boots and blue hair nets are on and the self-conscious giggles settle down, the tour begins in the grading room, which houses two Marel fish graders, capable of grading 200 fish per minute.
“The night shift does the grading and packing, filling the boxes to a standard 35 kilos plus ice, before setting them out on the auction floor,” said Young.
There are two market rooms to visit; one selling prime fish such as turbot, John Dory, brill, hake, Dover, ray wings, lemon sole, brill and sea bass, and the other selling day boat fish including lobster, crab, whiting, mackerel and line-caught seabass. “There is a premium of around 70 pence (GBP 0.70, USD 1.10, EUR 0.96) per kilo for the line-caught fish,” he explained.
Visitors are intrigued by the freshness and variety of species on offer and by the process of the shout auction, at which up to 80 buyers vie to purchase fish for the best price. The group are also amazed that so much of the seafood is destined for export, especially to France, Italy and Spain.
Plenty of fish is destined for local restaurants through wholesalers, but Simone Cook, proprietor of Beamers on the harbor front, explained that she was the only local chef registered as a buyer and for her, taking part in the auction was one of the most important parts of the day.
“We have a great reputation for the freshest fish and new customers are intrigued to find that I get up so early to choose it myself from the market, to ensure I get just what I want,” she said.
Soon the talk turns to catch methods and which is the best fish to eat, and right on cue the tour is herded outside to see a beam trawler, the pride of the fleet. Here, Jim Portus, CEO of the South Western Fish Producer Organization is on hand to field technical questions about quota and sustainability, and to sort out the fact from the fiction.
“There is a lot of misunderstanding by the general public about sustainable fishing, so we like to do our bit to help put that right,” explained Portus.
“On a less serious note, I have been promoting Brixham’s forthcoming all day music and seafood extravaganza ‘Fishstock,’ which takes place at the market on 5 September 2015. This multiaward-winning event raises substantial funds for the Fishermen’s Mission,” he added.
Jim Portus is rightly proud of the event, which he started four years ago, and he remains at the helm of a dedicated local team of volunteers.
Back inside, visitors peek inside the cuttlefish room, with its inky black treasure, and Barry Young encouraged them to seek out this cephalopod instead of squid. “It’s equally if not more tasty, but not so popular, which makes it much cheaper,” he said.
Reaching the end of their tour, the group is encouraged to keep up with Young via Twitter. “It’s definitely the way forward and it’s great for sales. I have several thousand chefs following me and they regularly ask what to do with a particular species or how to add something new to the menu, so I make sure I keep up to date for them!” he added.
As the group troops away from the market, they pass Mitch Tonk’s adjacent Rockfish restaurant and fish take-away, the latest in his growing chain.
“I love being next to the market and overlooking the harbor. I took my inspiration for Rockfish from Sydney fish market where the public can purchase fish and have it cooked on the spot. We are not there yet with the concept in Brixham, but who knows what the future might hold and in the meantime, my takeaway does an excellent scallop and bacon breakfast!” he quipped.