The evolution of the whitefish industry took a further step last week, with Peterhead Port Authority (PPA) confirming that it is seeking views on changes to the traditional shout auction that still operates in the fishmarket, potentially with the introduction of an electronic auction system.

Such systems have been commonplace across other UK ports for many years. Plymouth introduced its electronic auction over 20 years ago, and remote bidding on the electronic auction in Shetland, which covers both Lerwick and Scalloway, is widely credited with supporting the growing success of the Land in Shetland campaign.

Peterhead remains by far the UK’s premier whitefish port. The year to November 2023 saw record landings of £226m, with increases in the value of both pelagic and whitefish landings. Further expansion of pelagic processing and cold store capacity in Peterhead, and the requirement for the Scottish pelagic fleet to land a greater proportion of their catches in Scotland, is likely to see further records in future years.

Nevertheless, at a meeting in March, the PPA board identified a ‘significant threat’ to landings at the port’s fishmarket due to a trend of landings increasingly being directed towards harbours with electronic auction facilities.

In its statement announcing the consultation, PPA said: “The board also recognises potential opportunities to maximise supply and improve demand by allowing purchases without being physically present.

“Peterhead Port Authority will therefore commence a detailed review of the wide- ranging and significant factors that require to be considered to permit the board to make an informed future decision about the introduction of electronic auction at our fishmarket.”

New PPA CEO Graeme Reid said: “The board is confident that there are many individual and business stakeholders that will have views and opinions on this subject and may well be seeing similar risks, threats and opportunities for their own business. PPA would therefore welcome the opportunity to engage with all stakeholders who would wish to discuss this subject in due course.”

The consultation comes after moves early in 2023 to phase out or make alterations to the Peterhead shout auction, which generated some heated reactions, in particular from buyers. The moves were eventually abandoned.

Since then, one of the two agents operating in the auction has moved to modernise its sales at the shout auction, with the introduction of a bespoke online system that generates sales notes, invoices and other supporting sales documentation in real
time. This new system has yet to receive permission to operate.

A number of vessels are also rumoured to have switched landings away from Peterhead, mainly in a bid to retain ongoing sales of fish destined for UK supermarkets. Some are known to be reticent about continuing purchases on shout auctions due to their own internal corporate and social responsibility policies, which demand complete transparency across their purchasing chains.

The consultation is very straightforward, requiring none of the lengthy inputs that so many government consultations insist on. Available on the PPA website, it needs only name and company details, and then provides space for comment. No cut-off date is mentioned for responses.

Macduff waives landing fees for a year – and may look at electronic sales

Macduff Harbour Authority has expressed interest in reintroducing sales at the port, which is a hub for vessels in the region, but has concentrated in recent years on consigning fish for sale elsewhere.

The Moray port has confirmed that is waiving all landing fees for the 2024-25 financial year, in a bid to attract more landings, which will then inform a decision about reintroducing fish sales.

The port is already well established as the ‘go-to’ landing site for handline mackerel across the Moray coast, as well as being a hub for the Moray Firth squid fishery, which sees a number of visiting vessels joining local trawlers such as the

Just Reward BF 64. Catches are currently consigned to Peterhead for auction or direct sale.

Handliners from Cullen through to Gardenstown, which take advantage of the facilities in the port, benefit from an arrangement with George MacKay for overnight transport of mackerel for auction in Peterhead, reducing costs for all involved.

Macduff Harbour Authority said: “If sufficient support is gained from fishermen via berthing and fish landing totals during this coming year, we will evaluate opportunities to reopen the Macduff fishmarket with an online digital fish auction to access UK, Euro and world markets directly.

“This will further enhance the experience and reduce overheads for a Macduff fishing fleet by selling direct.”

Facilities available to visiting vessels in the port include a 24/7 manned service, with minimum 3m depth in the main harbours. A 7t flake ice machine and store is available, as well as two cold stores and forklifts, and plenty of space for net repair and similar work.

The proximity of Macduff Shipyards means that there is a large workforce of independent contractors available in the harbour for both routine and emergency repairs, and the four-berth 350t slipway, which has recently been upgraded to accommodate vessels of up to 10m beam, sees a constant stream of visitors.

Any vessels permanently berthing in Macduff harbour also receive an incentive via priority slipping when space and availability allows.

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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