Brixham Fish Market at sunrise

The town of Brixham has a fishing heritage that dates back to the 14th century, and it has always been at the forefront of technological innovation. Up until about 90 years ago boat-building yards surrounded the harbour, where experienced Brixham shipwrights developed new methods for building wooden fishing boats. These techniques migrated globally, to be used in shipyards the world over. Traditional red sails were also created in the town; they were made by grinding up the iconic local red sandstone and using it to protect sails. The tradition of innovation runs deep.

Two workers at Brixham Fish Market

More recently Brixham Fish Market has led the way in technology for the modern fishing era. In 1971 the market moved from its old home on the inner harbour to a new fish quay. Since then it has been continually upgraded, and after a multi-million pound project that entailed reclaiming land from the sea the current market was completed in 2010. It is now the biggest market by value of catch in England, landing over 40 species in a catch worth in excess of £40million in 2017.

Most technologically advanced fish market in the world

This new market is one of the most technologically advanced fish markets in the world. Boats land their catch throughout the day and night, sorted by species. A new grading machine costing £250,000 was installed in 2019 which automatically sorts the fish into 10 different size categories, producing labels for each box which give the name of the boat that landed the catch, the size of the fish, the weight of the box and a host of other information. This processing takes place throughout the night, ready for the start of the auction at 6am every weekday.

Until June 2019 the auction was a live ‘shout’ auction, where two auctioneers sold boxes of fish to buyers in the room. In perhaps the most significant change ever to the way fish is sold worldwide, at the beginning of June a brand-new ‘clock’ system was installed which sees buyers from anywhere on the planet bidding online for the seafood on offer. It’s the only one of its kind in the world, and has taken three years to develop and install.

A leading digital buying system

Brixham Fish Market clock auction

At the crack of dawn, before the auction starts at 6am, local buyers and agents representing buyers from elsewhere in the world gather to inspect the day’s catch. Just as before, they decide which seafood they want to bid for. Then it’s all new. They retreat to the nearest computer and get ready. The auction is an incredibly fast-paced Dutch auction, in which the price is reduced until someone decides to buy. It’s a contest of nerve – leave it too long and you won’t win your fish, buy too soon and you’ll pay more than you want to. Lots sell within a few seconds, so a good price and a less competitive one are separated by a second or so. 

A number of boxes of a particular species comes up for auction, with a starting price set by the same auctioneers who ran the live auction. The system provides them with a wealth of information on previous selling prices, helping them set the starting price for that particular lot. The clock starts, and within a few seconds the lot has sold. The buyer then has 15 seconds to decide which boxes he or she wants from the block – buyers know the boats individually and focus on the ones that provide the calibre of seafood they need for their customers. The rest are returned to the auction. Down in the market the boxes are tagged and loaded onto vans and lorries ready to be delivered to the buyer.

Brixham Market is thriving under new technology

Fish buyer at Brixham Fish Market

Selling a lot seems to be over in the blink of an eye. Auctioning the entire day’s catch takes slightly longer than the shout auction did (although it’s still all finished by about 9am), but there are significant benefits. Since the new clock auction was introduced the average price has gone up by about 10%, meaning more boats are landing in Brixham to make the most of the higher prices. For the same reason, fish is shipped by road from ports in Cornwall to be sold. This gives buyers more choice, and more revenue to the fish market, which in turn will boost the local economy. The system takes some getting used to and the wrinkles are still being ironed out, but in the long run it will bring more prosperity to the 130 shareholders, all of whom are local fishing families who pass their shares down through the generations.

Brixham has long been at the forefront of fishing technology, and with this latest innovation it will maintain this standard on a global stage. Brixham Fish Market is leading the way in one of the biggest changes ever to happen in the fishing industry.

Experience the market first hand at England’s Seafood FEAST

Auctioneers at Brixham Fish Market

You can try some of the world-class seafood sold at the auction during England’s Seafood FEAST, a series of events featuring local seafood prepared by local businesses. It’s taking place from 20 September to 6 October 2019 – start planning your Feast today.




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