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Even in troubled times, Grimsby's fish market thrives

The seafood cluster in Grimsby is still witnessing massive change, but its shown over the years how flexible it truly is.

“It’s not the way it used to be, but we’re still here," Grimsby Fish Market CEO Martyn Boyers told IntraFish. As a coastal town with its own port, the town of Grimsby is still all about fish, though in contrast to its storied past, the region now relies on seafood from far off its shores.

In the late '90s, Grimsby was catching fish in high volumes, but today, the majority the fish sold at the Grimsby Fish Market and supplied to local processors is whitefish imported from Iceland and Norway.

"The message should be clear," Simon Dwyer, a spokesperson for the Seafood Grimsby & Humber cluster told IntraFish. "Many people see Grimsby as a fishing port but we are about importing, trading, and processing, and we need to educate people about that."

Consolidation, a trend being witnessed in the industry globally, will be the biggest challenge five years down the line, Dwyer predicts.

"We don't know what is going to happen," he said. "Maybe we will have three larger processors rather than four or five medium ones over 21."

Raw material under pressure

Fish is still in a decline, but the market has tackled these key challenges by investing in servicing and diversifying its business, Boyers said.

When it first opened in 1996, the total volume sold at the Grimsby Fish Market surpassed one million 25-kilogram boxes a year, 75 percent of which was landed in Grimsby.

Today, the market sells around 300,000 boxes a year, but more than 90 percent is imported. Despite the decline, Boyers says he is "happy with the volume of sales” at roughly 300 tons a week of mainly haddock and cod.

“Grimsby Fish Market has always been able to adapt to the system. We are not doing anything unique per se, but we fit in nicely for where we are and for bringing in fish from Iceland," he said. "Fish comes to Grimsby because it has to be processed.”

Despite the gloom that sometimes hangs over the UK fishing industry, the market is growing. It recently invested £260,000 ($313,330/€279,650) in new equipment to meet increased demand for labeling and grading from local processors, who represent the majority of the market's registered buyers.

63be3d9586b19ad4ed835b79ec8fbce9 Merchants inspecting raw materials before the auction. Photo: Nina Unlay

Brexit, of course

All that said, the Grimsby seafood industry faces some risks that it must address, the biggest being Brexit. Dwyer and Boyers cited three in particular:

  • Reliance on overseas labor

The industry is working hard to sustain the 30 percent EU-based labor force in the area, Dwyer said. The cluster of larger processors in the area -- Young's Seafood, Seachill, and Morrisons -- are the backbone of job creation (even though there has been some criticism by local players for directly importing seafood).

  • Risk #2: Icelandic, Norwegian imports

"When it comes to bringing in Icelandic fish, we don't see any significant changes because it is mainly sailed in to close-by ports," Dwyer said. However, Norwegian imports may be an issue because they cross EU borders. One way to tackle it is by trucking it from one EU country and then shipping it via water to the town.

  • Risk #3: Tariffs

For now, only some operational changes may apply but it is looking like business will continue as usual, especially since relations to Iceland and Norway will have no financial penalties in the first year, Dwyer said.

Boyers takes an optimistic, can-do approach: "We shouldn't waste time conjuring what might happen, instead we are going to continue eating fish, so let's adapt to any changes," Boyers said.

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Read more from IntraFish Reporters Demi Korban and Nina Unlay's trip to Grimsby:

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