Inside Britain's seafood markets

For a long time, seafood markets in Britain have been places that operate behind closed doors, and not many people have had the chance to experience their excitement or learn how they work.

To put you in the picture we asked Mitch for the inside track on them.

 

Where are Britain's seafood markets?

The South West fishing fleet works out of three main fishing ports, Newlyn in Cornwall, Plymouth in Devon and the largest one, Brixham, also in Devon and where Seafood at Home is based. These ports have all the infrastructure to support the fishing fleet, from engineering, fuel and safety to landing cranes and transport. For every man at sea it is said there are three on land working on all the other things to support the industry and the local coastal community. 

What is the fish auction?

At the heart of these ports is the fish auction, where the fish is sold each day to wholesalers who then export it or sell it on to supermarkets, restaurants and independent shops. The supply chain is historically clunky, meaning your seafood passes through a number of hands before it gets to your table. In a perfect world it would pass through the various people on the same day, but the fact is fish is rarely sold on the day it is landed. A typical scenario would be that a boat lands after a day at sea, the merchant buys it on that day, but then takes a day to sell it on. Then it needs a day to get to the wholesaler or distribution premises, and another day to get to the supermarket or restaurant. All the while the fish needs to be kept at only a few degrees and covered in ice, and relies on a seamless transport system. Once it arrives at its final destination, it’ll be kept refrigerated until existing stock has been sold, so you can see how easy it is for fresh fish to not be so fresh.

Why can't boats bypass the big auctions?

The most important thing to remember is that fish aren’t caught equal! They are wild creatures and vary in size, weight and condition. One box can vary in quality from the next depending on how it’s been caught and most importantly how it has been handled afterwards. Because the catches are so diverse it’s not practical for there to be secondary markets, the big auctions can take care of all species and quantities as there is a different buyer for every different species and size of fish.

90% of the buying at the big auctions is done by buyers sat behind a laptop in remote locations in the UK and Europe, they don’t even get to see the fish before purchase. For me the only way you can buy fish is to see it on the quayside and get to know the boats, skippers and crews that land the best fish, and battle it out on price.

What's different about the way Seafood at Home does it?

Fresh sustainable seafood can be hard to find if you don’t have access to the seafood markets, and that not everyone is confident in the kitchen when it comes to fish. I want to change that and make it easy for people to buy and cook the freshest fish our country has to offer. Being based right on the quayside with our eyes on the fish means we can select the very best every day for our customers. 

We don't select based on pack size we need to sell like a supermarket would do, or on needing a certain species every day, like a restaurant may do to satisfy a fixed menu. We select purely on what is great in the market that day. We also cut out multiple steps in the transport chain. 

Your fish comes across the quayside to our base next to the market, where it's prepared, portioned, packed and sent to you. It's a completely different experience when it comes to seafood, puts the emphasis where it should be - on freshness - and lets us connect to our customers in exactly the right way.