Brixham Fish Market – A Fishy Proposition:
When the nice lady from the English Riviera tourism board accosted me on the Orient Express trip and suggested I came along to her event a week or so later, she mentioned a trip on a steam train, a visit to Agatha Christie’s holiday home Greenway and a tour of the Kent’s Caverns. She MIGHT have whispered something under her breath about Brixham fish market, but she definitely didn’t mention a 5.30am start!
Joking apart, I love fish and I’ve always been curious about how it is processed in the UK – how does what we eat in a restaurant or supermarket get there? So I was genuinely interested, despite the start.
Brixham fish market in Devon has benefited from massive investment over the last few years, around £20m has been spent developing the market and the accompanying services for local fishermen (the market also provides ice and fuel). And, last year Brixham turned over around £24million of fish…
The fish market started in the late 1800’s with sailing smacks landing their catch on the Old Fish Market Quay before the present market was built in the early seventies and modernised in the last few years. Now, I believe it has the highest value catch in the UK (though not the highest volume).
Fish is graded on landing, each fishing boat’s catch is kept on ice by type and grade in their own containers carefully labelled up and waiting auction.
Within a few hours of landing, they will have been auctioned and be on their way to their next destination. The process is quite straightforward and very quick, the auctioneers work around the room with the buyers, selling each container on the basis of price per kilo to the highest bidder. Prices vary tremendously depending on the type of fish and the premium fish (Scallops, Dover Sole etc) is kept in a separate room to the majority of day catch. There’s also a large refrigeration and processing facility for cuttlefish, which is separated to avoid the black ink spoiling other catches.
Our host for the tour from Brixham fisheries was very keen to show us just how fresh the fish is. Much of the fish being sold is from day trips so, when it’s sold it is in a state of rigour mortis and completely stiff. By the time it reaches us, the fish has aged for five to ten days and lost that stiffness.
He was also keen to explain how West Country fishermen are working with the authorities to improve sustainable fishing. We saw a couple of beam trawlers laid up to ensure the waters were not overfished. It’s a very delicate balance between enabling fishermen to earn a living now and the seas to restock to ensure future supplies are not jeopardised. And, I think we can all contribute by trying varieties of fish we may not have come across before, many of which are very similar to their better-known brothers. Witch and Megrin (both sometimes labelled ‘Cornish Sole’ and with a similar flavour and texture), Ling (which tastes like a cross between monkfish and cod), Hake and Grey Mullet…both very popular on the continent but less well known here! I’ll be posting some Hake dishes over the next few days.
We saw a huge range of fish on sale and some shellfish (crab and scallops) before going on to the newly opened Crab House restaurant for a welcomed brunch (which was STILL earlier than my normal time for breakfast).
Thank you to Brixham fish market for an enlightening start to the day!