Talks underway in bid to keep Plymouth fish market open

Plymouth's fish market is at Sutton Harbour -Credit:Penny Cross
Plymouth's fish market is at Sutton Harbour -Credit:Penny Cross

Talks are underway in a bid to keep the city’s fish market operating after Plymouth Trawler Agents ceases trading after tomorrow. Sutton Harbour Group Plc (SHG), which owns the quayside market, said it has begun discussions with potential operators.

Meanwhile, alternative arrangements are being made for fishing boats to sell their catch elsewhere after the closure of Plymouth Trawler Agent Ltd (PTA), which runs fish auctions at Sutton Harbour. One insider described this as “crisis management” and Plymouth City Council spoke of its “shock” to hear PTA was wrapping up after nearly 30 years and called it “the end of an era”.

At a parliamentary debate on the future of South West fishing, Plymouth Labour MP Luke Pollard called for the Government to step in. He said: “The closure of Plymouth’s fish market and auction is a shock. Fishing is a vital part of our city’s economy and social fabric.

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“That’s why I’m calling for Government support to help secure the market’s facilities and find a new operator. The closure of the fish market not only shakes the economic viability of Plymouth fishing boats but those boats that landed in smaller Cornish ports and overland their catch to be sold in Plymouth.”

No explanation has been given for the closure of PTA and the company has told PlymouthLive it is not making any public announcement. But it is understood economic factors, and even the bad weather over the past few months, may have played a part.

Two weeks ago Sutton Harbour-based PTA wrote to Plymouth’s fishing fleet to say its final auction will be on May 17. Owners and skippers were urged to find other markets for their catch.

Plymouth Fishing & Seafood Association (PFSA) has been working with fishing vessels who will continue to land their catch at Plymouth after May 17 but it will have to be transported by road to markets in Brixham and Newlyn. It will mean big changes for skippers who will have to register and face additional charges.

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SHG said it was told by PTA on May 3 that the company would be ceasing to trade. It described PTA as “a long-standing pillar of the fishing community and strategic partner with the company” and said: “We are saddened by this turn of events.”

SHG said it is committed to the re-establishment of the fish market at Sutton Harbour “as quickly as possible”, and has started discussions with “entities who have expressed interest in assuming the operation of the market”.

A SHG spokesperson said: “Since receipt of the news, the company has been intensively engaged with various and multiple strategic stakeholders for the implementation of immediate arrangements, including Plymouth City Council, the Plymouth Fishing and Seafood Association, the operators of the Brixham and Newlyn fish markets, local vessel owners and skippers, and others. These immediate arrangements are being put in place to ensure that catch being landed to Sutton Harbour will be brought to market at either Brixham or Newlyn.”

SHG said it is committed to providing services to enable the landing of fish at Sutton Harbour, including the sale of fuel and ice. The spokesperson saidL “Vessels are encouraged to establish contractual relationships with the Brixham and Newlyn operators to enable the settlement of auction proceeds, as well as sale of fuel and ice via Sutton Harbour in the most efficient and seamless manner.

“The company is committed to working with the fishing industry and its various members to weather this storm, with the hope and intention of emerging from it together, with a stronger and enhanced fish market operation looking to the future.”

Edward Baker, PFSA chief executive, said it was hoped the market could continue to operate. He said: “There is a lot of will and desire to create a new market on a new model.”

Plymouth City Council said it was aware of “a number of ongoing issues relating to the fish market”, but news of its closure still came as shock. Senior council officers met with the PTA, PFSA and fishing industry representatives last week and with SHG since then. Senior officers have also been in touch with the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), to discuss the impact the closure could have on smaller fishing ports along the coast, such as Looe and Mevagissey.

The authority stressed Plymouth hosts a variety of fishing sectors and will continue to be a fishing port. The PFSA and the council are working closely in partnership to support the fleet of about 100 Plymouth boats, with another 100 also using the facilities.

The council said transporting catch to Brixham and Newlynwoudl be an interim solution while options are explored. Council leader Tudor Evans said: “Everyone we speak to wants the market to continue in some form. Our hope is that there will be a viable way for vessels to continue to sell their catch in Plymouth and we are extremely keen to help broker these conversations.

“Fishing has been part of Plymouth for centuries and while the closure of the market is the end of an era, it is not the end of the industry in Plymouth. Vessels – the smaller ones in particular – will still land their catch here but we as a city need to work with the industry to explore all possible options to support its future here in Britain’s Ocean City.”

Plymouth Trawler Agents was incorporated in 1994 and began trading the following year. It is an independent firm of fresh fish auctioneers and fishing boat agents.

The company said it was formed "by fishermen for fishermen". In 2018, the business handled the catches of 392 different fishing vessels and auctioned 4,222 tonnes of fish to a value of £16.7m from its base at Plymouth Fish Market.

Plymouth Trawler Agents' most recent set of accounts, for 2022, showed it had net assets of £2.423m and employed 22 people It is understood workers will be made redundant.