“There’s always something happening,” Luke Netherton, general operations manager at Brixham Trawler Agents (BTA), told Fishing News.
Luke first joined BTA in 2006, at the age of just 17. “I was at college at the time as part of a bricklaying apprenticeship. Looking for some extra work, I made enquiries down the quay – and managed to get a job with BTA on the evening shift.
“I would finish college and then catch the bus down to the quay to start work at 3pm. Being 17 at the time, I was only able to work until 11pm.”
After turning 18, Luke began working more hours at the fishmarket. “I started staying later, and was then offered the opportunity to learn about grading the fish – and my career with BTA progressed from there.”
Luke soon acquired more skills, gaining his HGV Class Two licence, while also beginning to learn the auctioneering side of the operation. “I worked on the auction for four years, learning from chief auctioneer John Rogers and Todd Crombie. Whilst learning that side of the business, I also started helping out with some of the administrative tasks, such as settling with the boats.”
Two years ago, having gained experience across a wide range of positions, Luke was offered the job of general operations manager – a diverse and varied role, and one which is essential to the smooth running of the business.
“Part of my role is to oversee all of the shifts. That means I have to liaise with the managers of the day, evening and night shift teams to ensure that they have everything they need, and everything is running smoothly. Part of that responsibility includes making sure there aren’t any staffing issues, and that all the machinery and equipment each team needs is up to date and working correctly.
“Another important aspect is to be present on the market floor in order to liaise with fishermen and buyers so that I can answer any queries or questions they may have.”
Luke’s day normally begins at around 5.30am, his first task being to meet with night shift manager Paul Mortimer to find out if any problems have developed overnight that need tackling during the day. He then moves on to dealing with any outside charges, including bills for transportation or box washing, passing on any invoices to BTA’s administration team.
“After that, I’ll head down to the market floor to make sure everyone is OK, and everything is working as it should. I’ll assist with the ticketing and labelling of the fish, as well as helping to keep the market clean and tidy. Being present on the market floor is important. From there I can answer any questions from fishermen or buyers, which helps to maintain good relationships.”
Other important relationships that Luke helps to maintain are with ports around the country from which fish is overlanded to the market – and if the weather is poor, and fishing slow, he’ll sometimes take to the road himself.
“There’s always a key person in each port. I’ll liaise with them to arrange meetings with some of the fishermen landing into each port to make sure they’re happy. I’ll check in with them to see if they’ve got everything they need, such as fish boxes and ice, and to understand if the transportation side of things is running smoothly for them.
“We also need to ensure we’re delivering a good service to the buyers. People come to Brixham fishmarket because they know the level of service that they’re going to get. At BTA, we pride ourselves on both the quality of fish and the quality of service we provide. We often receive feedback from all around the coast saying what a good job we’re doing – which is always nice to hear.”
When he’s at the market, one of Luke’s final tasks of the day is to check in again ahead of the night shift. “I’ll give Paul Mortimer a call to inform him of any problems or changes that have happened during the day. For example, if more beamers are booked in, I’ll let him know so that he has a better understanding of what’s happening before he starts the night shift.”
Luke finishes his shift at around 2pm, although his duties for the day may not necessarily be over just yet.
“I’m on the lifeboat here at Brixham as well. I joined about six years ago. At the end of the day, the fishermen are ultimately paying my wages – so by volunteering I feel like I’m able to give something back.”
After reporting record sales last year, and with planned expansion of the auction halls and increased landing capacity under the government’s Levelling Up initiative (Fishing News, 7 December, ‘Devon ports secure government funding’), the success of the local industry is a source of pride for Brixham- born Luke.
“Brixham’s a small place. I feel immense pride when walking around the town with the Brixham Trawler Agents logo on my shirt.”
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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