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Competition for fish is becoming increasingly international
This article featured in EUROFISH Magazine 3 2020.
The basic idea behind auctions is very old: the goods on offer will be sold to the highest bidder. This method – which is also used to auction fish and seafood – is as simple as it is successful. But the advancement of digital technologies is now making its mark in this area. Many auctions have completed the step into the modern age and are using the possibilities of the internet to prepare themselves for the global fish business.
In many regions of the world it is common practice for fishermen to sell what they catch to just one or only a few wholesalers. This can work, but it has the disadvantage that the fishermen are dependent on the trader and are sometimes not paid fairly because the trader dictates the prices. That is why quite a lot of fishermen consider auctions to be the better method for first hand sale in the fish marketing chain. The principle of auctioning fish catches and selling to the highest bidder is not new and has in some places proven itself for decades. The bell that heralded the opening of the daily fish auction in Honolulu rang for the first time in 1952, and the Tsukiji fish market which closed down just recently in Tokyo, where it counted 900 licensed traders who handled around 1,600 tonnes of fish and seafood a day, was opened as early as 1935. The roots of the Norwegian Sildesalgslag go back to 1927, and Sweden’s largest fish auction in the port of Gothenburg even dates back to 1910. The idea of bringing together suppliers and potential buyers for trading certain goods such as fish and seafood under regulated conditions offers several advantages from which fishermen, traders and ultimately consumers all benefit equally because a constant supply of fresh produce is guaranteed every day.
Convincing benefits for suppliers and buyers
A lot of primary food producers try to sell part of their products directly to consumers and thereby circumvent other forms of trade. What has long been common practice for agricultural products is now becoming increasingly popular for fish and seafood, too. This marketing principle has advantages for both parties: the producers get better prices and the customers get optimal freshness.
When at around 4 p.m. the "petits bateaux" return to the port of Le Guilvinec on the French Atlantic coast and the fishermen unload their freshly caught fish or langoustines they are already eagerly awaited at the quayside by locals, restaurant operators and tourists. Fish that is not snapped up immediately can be seen shortly afterwards in one of the harbour fish shops, for example "La Marée du Jour", where crowds of customers are also already waiting. Three and a half hours further north-east by car in Cancale a good half dozen colourful stalls have been set up next to the town’s beach. That is where local oyster farmers offer their specialities. It would be hard to get "creuses de Cancale" fresher, or for that matter at a lower price, than here. Fresh fish sales straight from the fishing boat are also popular along the German Baltic coast. Anyone who wants to buy freshly caught cod or herring directly from the fisherman in the harbour of Wismar has to be an early riser: the town’s remaining fishermen usually land their day’s catch around breakfast time. And a lot of German trout producers, too, sell their fish directly to their customers. This sales channel is in the meantime practically indispensable from an economic point of view. Almost all producers offer their products in farm shops or at weekly markets, both fresh and processed – mainly hot smoked. Some trout farmers even have their own snack stands or fish restaurants. Direct sales are more lucrative than supplying to wholesalers and retailers. And they enable even smaller enterprises with relatively low production volumes to stay in business.
Remaining agile in a dynamic marketplace
The Internet offers fishermen and retail shops ways to sell their catches that were unheard of a decade ago. Young (and older) consumers have quickly understood the benefits of online shopping, and vendors must keep pace with the latest, continually changing developments.
Sellers enjoy superior visibility, allowing smaller concerns to compete with larger businesses, with 24/7 exposure to a wider national, even global, audience. They also benefit from enhanced business management. By tracking data about customer purchases, sellers learn their customers’ preferences and are able to target those groups with specific offers. An Internet presence allows businesses to remain agile in a dynamic marketplace.
Two businesses, while maintaining their physical stores in Vigo, Spain, have embraced the new technology. La Pescadería de mi Barrio (My Neighbourhood Fishmonger) is a business-to-business (B2B) concern. Delmaralplato is both B2B and business to customer, selling to restaurants and consumers.
Sales of seafood products carrying the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) sustainability logo amounted to approximately €6.8 billion for the financial year to March 2018, an increase of €2.3 billion from the previous financial year according to estimates from the MSC. According to the annual report, the increase in sales were a result of the 912,785 metric tonnes of MSC-labelled products sold and the calculated 40% global average retail mark-up from wholesale values for products containing the MSC eco-label. MSC continues to grow. An additional 3,795 companies adopted the MSC logo globally in 2017-18 resulting in 28,250 products with the sustainability label. In the period 2017-2018 10 million metric tonnes of certified global catch was exceeded, which represents 13% of the total global marine catch. In addition, MSC saw revenue increase 20% in the financial year to 31 March 2018. MSC aims to certify 30% of global catch by 2030, according to Rupert Howes, the chief executive.
MSC certificates for two European fisheries will be suspended from March 12, 2019. Independent certifier Bureau Veritas issued a notice of suspension for the South of Brittany purse seine sardine fishery in France and the Spanish Bay of Biscay purse seine sardine fishery based on updated advice from the International Council for the Exploration of the Seas (ICES). ICES revised the understanding of the sustainability of the sardine stock and accordingly advised a reduction in fishing effort. According to ICES the Bay of Biscay sardine stock remains healthy, but the fishing effort is significantly higher than what is consistent with achieving Maximum Sustainable Yield. These issues pose a threat to low trophic level and short-lived species like sardines as their populations experience large fluctuations over short time frames. Spokespersons for the two fisheries said they were disappointed with the notice of suspension, but they understood the need for a strong management plan for the sustainability of the stocks. They reiterated their commitment to work together with fisherman and the science community to ensure the viability of the fishery for future generations. All is not lost for the two fisheries, they have 90 days from the date of the Notice of Suspension to formulate a corrective action plan. If the fisheries can implement mechanisms which ensure catches are in line with the new advice the notice will be rescinded, and the certification will remain.