Peterhead Port Authority (PPA) has issued a statement on the initial results of its informal consultation on possible moves towards the introduction of an electronic auction.

The move, first proposed last year, was put on hold after several merchants and agents threatened to boycott the market, arguing in favour of the traditional shout auction, which they said was faster and more efficient, and had served the industry well for generations.

The proposal was thought be a response to the growing success of electronic auctions elsewhere, notably Shetland, where the system has underpinned the successful ‘Land in Shetland’ campaign, and to pressure from large corporate buyers, processing fish for supermarket chains, who were concerned about the need for greater transparency in their supply chains.

The consultation, launched in April, came after Scrabster market successfully introduced a hybrid system to its auction, retaining the shout element of sales, but introducing real-time electronic recording, with the associated automated generation of sales invoices and reports.

The consultation asked for comments from all users of the port. Unlike government consultations, or statutory environmental consultations, there is no requirement for PPA to publish results, or any individual responses.

In a public statement, PPA said that it had had a good response to the consultation, with a largely positive welcome for the principle of a transition to electronic sales, but with concerns raised about how this would actually work in practice.

The statement said: “In accordance with the Modern Trust Ports for Scotland ‘Guide to Good Governance’ document, the board and executive team at the port is charged with operating for the benefit of all stakeholders, and continuously reviews risks, potential threats and opportunities, much like any other commercial organisation.

“But rather than rush into a decision, time is being taken to consult all stakeholders, identify and address concerns raised, and maximise knowledge and understanding of the best way forward.”

PPA chief executive Graeme Reid added: “Electronic auctions are now commonplace in many markets, and are in the process of being implemented in others. The board also recognises potential opportunities to maximise supply and improve demand by allowing purchases without being physically present.”

Left to right: former SNP leader at Westminster Stephen Flynn, Scottish cabinet secretary for rural affairs and islands Mairi Gougeon, PPA chief executive Graeme Reid, Scottish first minister John Swinney and local SNP candidate Seamus Logan on a visit to Peterhead fishmarket, as the general election campaign drew to a close.

Following the launch of the consultation, PPA met a large number of stakeholders to better understand their views on the pros and cons of an electronic auction at Peterhead.

Mr Reid said: “The majority of those responding by consultation were positive about e-auction, many offering assistance and support, for which we are extremely grateful. Those less positive about it provided areas of concern, and it is those areas of concern that we have subsequently spent our effort focusing on since May.”

Issues raised included concerns that the auction process would take longer than the shout auction, delaying the removal of fish from the market for processing or export. Of particular concern was the potential for a single electronic auction to be put in place, when currently several auctioneers are operating on different species at the same time.

A requirement to weigh individual boxes, and the consequent time constraints, was also raised as an issue.

Graeme Reid added: “Our analysis from consultation and research will be used should we proceed to implementation, and we will communicate back out to our stakeholders accordingly. We are not in a rush, and would rather take the time and effort to make sure that we are considering all aspects of such a change.”

No formal decision has yet been confirmed as a result of the consultation. The annual public meeting of PPA – a Trust Port operated on a not-for-profit basis on behalf of its users – was due to take place at the end of June, but it was postponed at short notice. It has been rescheduled to take place on Tuesday, 20 August, at the Palace Hotel in Peterhead.

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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