Cuttlefish push Brixham landings to over £31m

Brixham was voted ‘Port of the Year’ at the Fishing News Awards 2017 three weeks ago, for the second year in succession.

Keen to make it a prestigious hat-trick next year, port auctioneers Brixham Trawler Agents (BTA) are working hard to push its ‘total fish auctioned’ past its impressive £31m in 2016/2017.

BTA’s Managing Director, Barry Young, said: “£31m is a long way ahead of our total of £23m in 2015/16. The steep rise over the past 18 months is due mainly to the doubling of demand for Brixham cuttlefish. While we cannot predict that the cuttlefish prices of over £4/kg will remain, if they do for the remainder of the financial year we may either reach that £31m or go slightly over. As a whole, the fishermen of Brixham have had a phenomenal couple of years – it’s not only cuttlefish prices that have risen, there is an increase right across the prime species.”

Matt Bailey (General Manager), Barry Young (Managing Director) and Mike Shaw (Finance Director) of Brixham Trawler Agents proudly display the Port of the Year Plaques Brixham won at Fishing News Awards 2016 and 2017.

Before becoming managing director four years ago, Barry Young had worked for BTA for 26 years. He joined the staff after leaving fishing, “working up from the bottom,” he said, before reaching the position of chief auctioneer. Barry Young replaces the previous managing director, ex-beamer skipper Rick Smith.

“Rick has largely retired but he still has an important input into BTA,” Fishing News was told.

BTA is also active in the promotion of fish, either through social media or by direct contact with the public.

A panoramic view looking down on the present fishing complex at Brixham – the old fish market buildings have been retained and updated and are used during the cuttlefish season.

Cuttlefish continue to secure good prices on Brixham market making them the single most valuable species landed at the South Devon port.

Barry Young revealed, “During the summer months, I host a crowd of up to 30 people on Wednesday mornings, showing them how the Brixham fish market ticks. We have to promote fish as well as auction it, and by doing so we do have really good feedback. Following the tour around the market and port, they go upstairs to the Rockfish Restaurant and are served a fish breakfast cooked by a leading chef – what could be better than that? See the fish, then eat it!”

He told Fishing News how Brixham has reached its current position as the top of the four South West markets from a boost in the catches of cuttlefish, “and with over £31m of fish being auctioned over the last financial year, we have a high figure to beat,” Barry Young explained.

Small quantities of prime fish are readily sold on Brixham fishmarket, often making very high prices.

“Once the present financial year is complete and we have exact figures to compare, we may be slightly over £31m. Figures so far are heading that way. It is nice to think that the total will go even higher than £31m, but let’s face it, such figures per annum for a relatively small port like Brixham are very difficult to forecast.

“Driven by the upsurge in the price of cuttlefish, no one really knows whether that demand and the sum of £31m will continue. We have heard many predictions on why the price of cuttlefish has in two years almost doubled, but in truth nobody is sure. Some say that the presence of cuttlefish in other areas has dropped, even that inputs into Europe from non-EU countries have fallen.

“Even if the cuttlefish prices drop, I cannot see the landings of Brixham falling to the 2015/2016 level of £23m; figures in future may be around £25m but I’m not going to dwell on that. In truth, no one can predict fish prices, fish selling is, at best, a volatile trade.

“For an example, today [30 May] cuttlefish were sold at an average of £4.41p/kg, it has been both higher and lower, but not by much. Even though the real cuttlefish season is now over, when the glut landings came, the £4/kg was still the normal level. It didn’t plummet due to heavy landings – £4/kg seems to be the figure around which the buyers can make a decent return. We hope that those prices will continue into the next season, this coming winter.”

“Almost 100% as an export species, cuttlefish demand from countries like France, Italy, Greece, Spain and elsewhere makes Brixham the biggest cuttlefish port in the UK. Concentrating on fishing for cuttlefish began over a decade ago. As a non-pressure stock it quickly became an alternative to Dover sole; tighter quotas on Dover sole enabled cuttlefish to became a very important species in the future of Brixham market.

“Fishermen can catch what they want and, luckily, over the past two years we have had one of the best migrations of cuttlefish on record; this winter the boats were in the right place at the right time, they made serious sums of money. Cuttlefish has such a short lifecycle (12 to 18 months) that there is very limited science on the species. Even though the sole quotas have increased, our boats – both beamers and day-boat trawlers – need cuttlefish and it remains a big part of many skippers’ grossing.

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