“Brixham fish products are the best in the world, to be fair – it’s as simple as that,” said Neil Walker, of Brixham-based fish merchant Walker and Son.

He was making the statement not as a boast, but more as someone who fully respects the quality and provenance of the product he proudly sources, prepares and delivers for his customers.

“We buy fish from Brixham fishmarket every day and sell both wholesale and retail, six days a week, to customers all over the UK and the Channel Islands. We also sell locally on our fish counter, and provide overnight courier drops to anywhere in the UK next day,” he explained.

The business began life in the late 1980s after Neil’s father David moved the family to South Devon from Grimsby. “We moved to Brixham in 1988. A year later he managed to get a unit down on the fishmarket site.

“I didn’t really know what I was going to do back then, but my father said: ‘Why don’t you come down and give it a go?’ We set up as David Walker and Son selling wholesale, supplying fish to my dad’s old contacts in Grimsby.

“Then gradually other customers came along, in Birmingham, Sheffield, Bradford, Nottingham – all over the place. It grew and grew and grew.

That growth soon resulted in expansion, and the business took on a second unit, before relocating to its current premises in 2010. “The move gave us the chance to modernise and expand. We installed the fish display counter which we have today – that gave us a lot more chance to promote and show off what Brixham has to offer to the public.”

The move also enabled the business to introduce an overnight delivery service. “We started selling using courier drops with an Exeter-based courier. I think we were the first ones to be doing that back then – certainly in Brixham. We were able to deliver the fish overnight, straight to people’s front doors.

“It started off with people coming down on holiday, and they’d see our display down on the quay and take a leaflet, or take some fish back to their accommodation. They’d then go home and order online or over the phone. We’ve kept quite a few regular customers since then.”

A family tradition: Neil’s son Zack strapping up a box ready for dispatch. “I didn’t really want anyone else, just me and Zack. We both get our hands dirty and crack on with it, really. We get the job done. He’s seven years in now, and still learning every day. I learn something every day, too. I think everybody does – if you’re willing to learn.”

In 2012, Neil took full control of the business following his father’s retirement. “Dad taught me pretty much everything, really. How to fillet, how to buy, how to be a businessman – as well as being my dad.”

That knowledge is now being passed on to the next generation of the Walker family – Neil’s son Zack. “He came to work with me in 2016. Similar to me, really, he tried a few other jobs and then I said to him: ‘Look, give it a go with me.’ He can do pretty much everything now. He buys, he sells, he preps for the retail section, as well as sorting out the wholesale.”

Neil’s role isn’t restricted to working the merchant side of the business – in 2018, he took over Serious Shrimp, a retail kiosk on The Strand in Brixham, and it’s there that his day begins.

“My day starts at about 4.10am. I go down to the kiosk and set the seating out, and the barriers and the banners, and check the stock for the day’s trading – cockles, mussels, whelks, crabmeat. If anything is missing, I nip back over to the unit.”

Once finished at the kiosk, Neil returns to the main unit, where he sets up the retail counter before heading over to Brixham fishmarket. “I go over to the market to see what’s happening, and have a look at what we’re going to buy, see the quality, the volume of what’s available, and then start bidding on the fish via the computer at 6am with everybody else.”

Neil preparing a retail order. “People choose to come to us for fish. There’s more competition where we are now, and other outlets have sprung up – but people choose to come to us,” he said. “I never take an order for granted, and when people continue to come, and it grows, it encourages me to know that we’re doing something right.”

Neil will bid on the prime species, with Zack concentrating on landings from the day-boat fleet. Once the auction ends, the facilitation of orders begins. “I’ll go over to the market hall and collect the fish. We either start packing straight into boxes, or if we have any filleting to do, we’ll get that done. Once the wholesale is done, we’ll then concentrate on the retail counter and orders.”

The working day at the unit normally comes to an end at around 3pm, but that doesn’t necessarily mean Neil’s day is done. “If I’ve got to cover some staff at the kiosk,I then head over there.I do probably three days a week and the weekend at the kiosk.”

Working at the kiosk gives Neil the opportunity to engage with the public and share the pride he has for Brixham-landed fish, and the role he plays in the local industry.

“I enjoy people’s interest in what we do. Even if it’s not a sale, they’ll come to the door and just ask a question – because they want to know,” he says.

“I get enjoyment telling them what fish it is and what to do with it – it gives me a bit of a buzz, actually.”

This story was taken from the latest issue of Fishing News. For more up-to-date and in-depth reports on the UK and Irish commercial fishing sector, subscribe to Fishing News here or buy the latest single issue for just £3.30 here

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