Martyn Boyers - The Grimsby Fish Market - A hub for trade in cod and haddock

EM1 20 Martyn BoyersThe Grimsby Fish Market, one of the most important fish markets in the UK, trades mainly in cod and haddock (two of the most consumed species in the UK) that arrives primarily from Iceland and Norway. Grimsby and its surroundings have a well-established processing industry which is a magnet for fishermen and fish traders. Martyn Boyers, the Chief Executive of the Grimsby Fish Market, explains the role of the market and the auction in the UK fish trade and outlines his vision for the future of the enterprise.


What are the trends you can see in relation to the market in terms of products, product forms, national, and international trade? Is most of the seafood sold on the market intended for the UK? Are there many foreign buyers of seafood that arrives at the market?

In the case of Grimsby Fish Market, historically we have only dealt with whole fresh fish, predominately cod and haddock. The main source of these supplies, approximately 75%, is Iceland. Grimsby used to have a major fishing fleet and in the late 1950s and early 1960s Grimsby was the biggest fishing port in the world! In those days the deep sea trawlers caught fish around Icelandic waters which was mainly cod and haddock. They have always been the most abundant species which is why the trend has continued to this day.

What has changed has been the route to market. The ‘Cod Wars’ of the late 70s and early 80s resulted in the Grimsby deep-water fleet being diminished to the point of extinction. However, the fish kept coming as Grimsby Fish Market and its processors adapted to the new conditions. That change was fresh caught fish from Iceland being dispatched to Grimsby in containers on regular routes facilitated by Eimskip and Samskip. Although the volumes are not what they used to be, we receive containerised fish to this day on a weekly basis.


According to Seafish, seafood consumption in the UK has been declining over the last 10 years for reasons including austerity, price inflation, and reduced spending power. Can the Grimsby Fish Market, as one of the biggest fish markets in the UK, contribute to reversing this trend?

Grimsby Fish Market has been part of the British Ports Association Fishing Ports Group and, as it happens, I am the Chairman. As a result, I was invited to be part of an initiative formalised by ‘DEFRA’ the Government department that covers fisheries, facilitated by Seafish, to develop and promote ‘Seafood 2040’ which is a strategic framework and vision with an objective to increase consumption of seafood to two portions a week.


What role do auctions play at the Grimsby Fish Market?

The auction is fundamental to the Fish Market in Grimsby and the main reason for being operational. There is a misconception about the role of fish auctions, but they all play a critical role in the wheels of the seafood industry. Fish auctions like ours, are sat fairly between fishermen and processors to determine the price of fresh fish on any given day. They also act as a barometer for those traders and FAS (frozen at sea) dealers to establish price. If there were no auctions who would determine the price of fish? Probably the supermarkets of Europe would set prices like they have done with other commodities! Fresh fish supplies fluctuate naturally so prices can do the same, the natural place for that to happen is a fresh fish auction.

Is all fish, both wild and farmed, sold through auctions? Traditionally we have only sold fresh caught wild fish but last year we did have some small quantities of farmed white fish. Occasionally we sell some wild caught sea trout as well.


What happens to fish that does not find buyers?

In the last few years we have not had any fish unsold which is testament to the depth of the processing industry around Grimsby. It seems there is a home here for everything!


Who vouches for the quality of the fish that goes through an auction?

Quality is subjective within the Industry, everyone trades good quality and no one sells poor fish. On the auction it is the same, it is up to the buyer to decide if the quality of what they see, is suitable for their customer.


Does the market manage the auctions or are they independent?

We manage and control the fish market operation and auction since Grimsby Fish Dock Enterprises Ltd started in 1996. In those days there were a number of fish selling agencies working independently while today there are four including our own selling agency, Grimsby Fish Market Ltd.


What incentives can you offer fish traders to attract them to the Grimsby Fish Market?

We think to preserve the status and integrity of the fish market and its auction we have to create a level playing field for buyers to make it easy for them to buy. To do this they need advance information about supplies and the quality.


Are prices or services better than those offered in Billingsgate (in London), for instance?

Grimsby is not comparable to Billingsgate, completely different!


A large number of buyers and sellers is a prerequisite for a successful auction. Do you see any scope for increasing the number of traders?

The Humber region is the strongest area in the UK for fish processing and Grimsby Fish Market has nearly all the processors from Grimsby and Hull attend as well as some from Bridlington and Scarborough. What attracts them is a supply of fresh fish at auction and the opportunity to buy. We see an opportunity to increase the number of buyers through the increased deployment of technology which is widely used in the Industry.


The Grimsby Fish Market has been supplying data to the European Market Observatory for Fisheries and Aquaculture (EUMOFA). What benefits does the Grimsby Market get from this arrangement? Do you see ways to better align EUMOFA products with your expectations and interests?

EUMOFA is a great source of information and it is important for us to look at trends and prices in other countries as we are in a much more globalised market place. We see our contribution as supporting for the sharing of information which ultimately helps decision makers shape the Industry.


Sustainability is becoming ever more important along the entire value chain from the resource to the final point of sale. What efforts is the Grimsby market making in this regard?

Are there initiatives to use sustainable energy, reduce energy consumption, substitute plastics with recyclable materials, or implement other solutions that would contribute to greater sustainability? Sustainability has been on the agenda for some time and we see it as a prerequisite for any trading now. We have had MSC accreditation for some time at the Fish Market and also for our fish selling agency GFM Ltd. Customers expect a reasonable approach to sustainability. Through our port operations we are heavily involved with offshore renewables so already utilise some local expertise on reducing energy consumption.

I do think there needs to be a reduction in the use of polystyrene boxes for transporting bulk fresh fish particularly from Norway. I’m surprised that it hasn’t happened already as it is possible to put fish in skips which is what have been doing with Iceland for years.


Climate change and its potential impact on fish stocks could have a significant bearing on the Grimsby Fish Market with unusual fluctuations in catch sizes and compositions. Has this been an issue for the market to date and how can challenges like this be addressed, so that the market continues to be a focal point for the UK fisheries sector in the future?

Climate change is a real issue that needs attention on a global basis. Fish stocks in our North East Atlantic fishing areas have been impacted and we have seen migration north to colder waters. This isn’t the same as there is no fish, it has just moved.

I think the scientists need to adapt their calculations when negotiating quotas to embrace the movement of species. This has been extremely notable with mackerel but less so for cod and haddock. There will be movement of species therefore fluctuations in quotas manifesting itself in friction between countries. However, there will still be fish caught which will need to be bought, sold and traded.


What is your vision for the Grimsby Fish Market? Do you see it expanding into areas outside of those in which it is currently active? What are the factors that could influence your plans for the market?

We see plenty of opportunity for the future as we can adapt to the changing structure of the seafood Industry and its requirements. We see Grimsby as a massive hub for fresh seafood and know that we can be a big part of the continuing story. Through our selling agency we can expand into other seafood commodities and through the Fish Market we can improve the services and facilities.


What potential impacts will the UK’s exit from the EU have on the Grimsby Fish Market? How is the market and the companies that operate on it preparing for this increasingly likely eventuality?

It was significant that Boris Johnson chose to visit Grimsby Fish Market three days before the election! The election result means we know we will leave the EU. It will impact the UK seafood industry and of course our European colleagues, but as we are predominately dealing with Iceland and Norway, both outside the EU, we expect little or no disruption to supplies. Many businesses in Grimsby export to the EU so it is a concern for them and their customers to have the new paperwork and processes agreed. 

For some time I was involved in EAFPA (European Association of Fishing Ports and Auctions) as Vice President and President which was constructive and informative and gave ports and auctions a voice in Europe. It was rewarding meeting people and has always been a privilege to be involved with European colleagues as it follows my mantra ‘it’s not what you know, but who you know’!

We will all survive this upheaval as the fish industry and its people are resilient.

Martyn Boyers, Chief Executive, Grimsby Fish Market