Move over Sydney fishmarket: Sanford reveals big plans for Auckland

Published on
February 26, 2016

0600 on any weekday morning finds the auction bell ringing loudly at Auckland, New Zealand’s fishmarket, with manager and auctioneer Margret Hall at the helm. Owned and run by Sanford, the market has been in operation since the 1890’s on a variety of sites.

The 80 or so registered buyers, many of them representing the new Chinese and Asian communities in the capital, hunch over computer screens in the calm environment of a Dutch auction room. Many more join the sale from remote computers.

For an hour or so, buyers have inspected the fish, neatly packed into iced boxes and laid out in a numbered grid system in the adjacent refrigerated market hall. They must now concentrate on the descending hands of the auction clock, to pick up the bargains they are seeking.

“The majority of buyers are from the wholesale and retail sectors, but a few restaurateurs are also registered to buy, which means they can cut out the middle man and ensure they get the best fish. They compete for many of the 270 species to be found in New Zealand’s waters, 182 of which are fished under a quota management system, and the auction sells between 18 -26 metric tons per day,” explained Elle Armon-Jones, who provides regular guided tours of the market for official visitors, school children and the public.

Fish arriving from the fishing boats is re-graded, iced and labelled to maintain the market’s exacting standards. Grade A and B fish have a reserve set on them, but grade C fish is unreserved. This may be fish of poorer quality, or fish that has not reached the required price at a previous auction.

“Fish that is not sold after a few days will be sent back to the seller, but it may also go for smoking at the on-site smokehouse, or to the kitchens for incorporation into the market’s famous fish pies,” said Armon-Jones.

The most popular and highly valued species are pink snapper, trevally, gurnard and groper, whilst monkfish, which is one of the top priced fish in the Northern hemisphere, attracts a much lower price ‘down under’.

Live fish and shellfish has become a growing commodity at the market, as the ethnic population increases, and large tanks have been installed to hold blue cod, rock lobster, crayfish and crab. A separate chilled room holds live shellfish such as clams, oysters, cockles and pipi shells.

“Live blue cod can sell for up to NZD 40 (USD 26.56) per kilo, which is four times as much as the fresh product,” said Armon-Jones.
Local fisheries officers regularly check the fish at auction, looking for quality and confirming compliance with catch regulations and traceability.

As the auction ends, the day is just beginning for the fresh seafood retailers, boutique food market and restaurants and cafés housed within the market, which are open seven days a week. It is also just starting for Sanford’s adjacent processing unit, which fillets and packs fresh fish for local retail chains. A glassed-in gallery allows visitors to watch the slick operation.

At lunchtime the open-air courtyard and cafés bustle with a steady stream of diners, whilst at night, the aromas of Asia permeate the air as the standalone Hong Kong style and Korean eateries come into their own.

The market also boasts a thriving seafood school, which offers a variety of seafood cooking classes to people of all ages and experience, and is growing in popularity for its corporate events.

“Sanford opened the seafood school in 2004 to encourage people to incorporate more fish into their everyday meals, and to try species they had not tasted before, and it has developed into a much-loved institution over the past ten years,” explained Armon-Jones.

“The company has also developed an interactive educational display for visitors in the retail area, to enable them to learn more about where their seafood comes from because too many people are still removed from their food,” she said.

Sanford’s CEO Volker Kuntzsch, has great plans for the market, which is currently undergoing a rethink and revamp, and believes that it can rival the famous fish market in Sydney, Australia.

“The market presents a great opportunity for Sanford to communicate directly with consumers and share our passion for the oceans. We are keen to develop the Auckland fish market into a showcase that New Zealanders can be proud of.

“It will be a place to experience the beauty of our seafood and its unique diversity, learn all about the seafood industry and what we are doing to make our fisheries the most sustainable in the world, and share what it means to work on a fishing boat or on our salmon and mussel farms. In short, it will be a place not to be missed by visitors to our country,” he said.

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