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Brixham Fish Market, England's biggest fish auction

Brixham may be England's largest fishing port by value of the catch, but it retains its Devon charm. Brightly painted cottages overlook the historic harbour, it has a strong local community and life is at a relaxed pace. Take some time to sit back and watch the world go by.

A rich heritage of fishing

Fishing in Brixham never stands still, but has always been the lifeblood of the town.

In the mid-1800s Brixham had the largest fishery in the country, employing 1600 men. During the Great Gale of 1866 the fishing fleet was almost wiped out: 100 lives were lost, and 60 boats were extensively damaged.

As a result of the storm Brixham’s first lifeboat was introduced.  By the late 1800s, with a new railroad system to improve links with the rest of the country, a lucrative shipbuilding industry emerged which produced over 300 wooden sailing trawlers. The Brixham trawler design was much revered and replicated across the land, and the town became known as ‘The Mother of Trawling’.

The local community referred to the part of the town where the Brixham fishermen (known as ‘brickies’) lived as Fishtown, a name that is still in use today. Whilst the brave menfolk risked their lives trawling the hazardous waters, the women from the local families played a significant role. Known as Fish Hawkers, they sold the fresh catch and looked after the family’s money.  They used the Dutch auction style, shouting out the highest  price and reducing it until a buyer came forward.  The original fish market still exists at the Old Fish Quay, adjacent to the replica of Sir Francis Drake’s Golden Hind ship. Today this area is used for craft and food markets as well as by modern-day pirate performers and sea-shanty singers.

Brixham Fish Market, England's biggest fish auction Brixham Fish Market, England's biggest fish auction
Brixham Fish Market, England's biggest fish auction

Today's fish market

The market is now one of the most technologically-advanced in the world.

In 1971 the fish market moved to New Fish Quay, and in 2011 a £20m regeneration project took place. It is England’s largest fishing port by value, selling over 40 different species including monkfish, scallops and hake. In 2017 £42 million of seafood was handled, due in part to ‘Brixham’s Black Gold Rush’ - exceptionally high levels of cuttlefish were landed and sold at a record price.   

Luke Netherton is an auctioneer at the fish market. Born and bred in Brixham, he has worked there for 12 years. His day begins at 4.30am with two ‘shout’ (live) auctions. “There’s a great community feel here, plenty of variety and the chance to learn something new. I love all types of fish, it’s been good to me and it pays my wages!’
On average 40 buyers attend the auction, with many travelling from Cornwall and further afield. A remarkable 90% of the cuttlefish catch is exported to Mediterranean countries.

A web-based auction system will be implemented in 2019 and will replace the current shout auction, enabling buyers in the UK and overseas to bid remotely for the fish.  This will help the fish market maintain its position as one of the country’s leading suppliers of high-quality seafood.

Visitors can take a behind-the-scenes early morning tour, which includes seeing the fish auction and breakfast at Rockfish Brixham. It’s a memorable experience.