In order to purchase fresh fish and shellfish at the first point of sale, merchants are up bright and early for the 6am auction. Buying, dealing with, and transporting large volumes of catch from bigger boats, merchants are vital to supporting the basic infrastructure of the industry; without them the market, ice, fuel, storage, and much more would not exist. The market caters for a range of needs, hosting big buyers like Trelawney as well as smaller buyers like Dave Seabourne.

After securing their purchase at the market, buyers will take the catch in various directions: to wholesalers, processors, fish shops, restaurants, and the wider supply chain across the UK and into Europe.

The auction

The market echoes with the sounds of increasingly intense bidding – the chants of ‘yes, yes, go on, go on’ ending with a final ‘yes’ to secure the purchase or a conceding ‘no’ when the price gets too high. Suddenly there is a hush as the auctioneer waits and hopes someone else will bid but, if the silence lasts more than a few seconds, the catch is yours.

From door-to-door salesmen and local fishmongers to exporters and retailers, the merchants and buyers are looking to come away with different volumes of fish depending on the next step in their chain – and have different sized wallets to match. Part of the process is learning how not to get trapped in channels you can’t afford.

It’s not just an intricate system technically but also socially; everyone here knows how far to push each other, who to avoid, and what everyone else does with their catch in addition to the tactics they’ve developed on their own. Outside the market they go for pints, but inside rivalries preside.

The fish and shellfish then move up to the next rung of the supply chain ladder – some staying local, some going off in different directions around the UK, and some being taken to other countries. The majority of catch for some species like Megrim get taken to France, Spain, Italy, and sometimes the Netherlands depending on the fish. Some species like lemon sole stay in the country as a rule: these are the ones we like too much to give away!

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