Brixham is home to the largest and most progressive auction in England, where the catch quality and the recently installed Kosmos clock system have attracted a growing number of European buyers – and shipping seafood to Europe is crucial.
After some very uncomfortable weeks, the situation has begun to settle, according to Barry Young, managing director of Brixham Trawler Agents, which runs the port’s auction. But the reality is that prices at Brixham are down by 50%.
“Sole is selling for £8.50-9.00, and we had six tonnes of sole this morning,” he said.
“For BTA, costs are up dramatically. Paperwork is a massive challenge, and it has been very tough at the beginning of the year. We still have our European buyers – and not just one or two of them – and we have had to work through this to survive and support the industry.”
He said that BTA had been prepared ahead of the Christmas Eve trade deal announcement, with two systems ready run on its online auction – one for a the nightmare scenario of a No Deal outcome and the other prepared for operating under a trade agreement.
“We had already been testing these for six months,” he said, but added that while delays had been expected and this was all a step into the unknown, the last few weeks have been tough.
BTA works with Samways, an long-established and experience transport operator, to truck fish to European markets, and great pains had been taken to ensure that paperwork is in order, including updating the sales interface so that customers have access to catch certificates and other documentation.
“The breakdown at the beginning of the year was at the borders with problems with the new system in operation in Boulogne, and traffic re-routed to Dunkerque, which isn’t set up to deal with this,” he said.
“Now we are seeing holdups of six to eighteen hours if there’s a problem with paperwork. We’re asking the beamers that land to us to work shorter trips, so that if there are delays, then there’s a few days’ more shelf life in the fish when it’s landed.”
He commented that right now they are concentrating on maintaining activity in the face of what he called a perfect storm of coping with both the effects of Brexit at the same time as a global pandemic.
“There’s a lot of disappointment, although fishermen are resilient and we’ll come through this. But there’s a cost to the industry, and that cost comes out of the codend,” he said.