Looe Fish Market; a haven for fishermen and commerical buyers alike, and my destination last week for a miniature field trip. It has been on my destination list for some time, so not even the thought of a rather early start could deter Karen and I from donning our wellies and warmest jackets and racing the sunrise to the market.
With most of the beautiful town of Looe still asleep, we made our way into a rather unassuming building which had obviously been the centre of activity for some time. As the boats had been coming in at various times throughout late evening and the night, much of the fish was freshly sorted, weighed and re-iced ready for viewing and bidding.
The nature of the market is that of an auction with networked handheld bidding devices, thus making the process incredibly efficient. With a quick observation of the fish, it was clear for all buyers to see the quality of them and the care that had gone into retrieving these magnificent creatures. Indicators of their freshness were evident everywhere, in their subtle oceanic aroma rather than a pungent ‘fishy’ smell, their bright moist appearance, rigidity of the skin to touch and, in the case of the lobsters, their antennae still softly waving.
As Julian, the auctioneer was kind enough to show me how to operate the system selling the fish (thank goodness for his help, or there would have been an abundance of under-priced dover sole and boxes of gurnards flying everywhere!), I was able to see how much care was taken in their valuing, ensuring they are not sold for too low a price in order to do justice to both the fish and fishermen.
It was also reassuring to hear again about the importance of the Responsible Fishing Scheme here, and how Looe is possibly the only UK market where all of the boats are proudly part of it, ensuring a future for the industry and fishermen through constant sustainable practice and environmental considerations. Furthermore, a tagging system on line-caught fish means that for many, we are able to identify at the restaurant exactly which boat they are caught from and by which skipper (this week our beautiful bass were from the Dawn Raider by Neil Harman!).
Within the market the buyers were evidently highly knowledgeable, purchasing for a number of prestigious companies, with roughly 80% of fish from here being exported to France where demand is high for this superior produce. This was a slightly sobering reflection, to see such a high amount of this lovely fresh supply leaving their native shores when importation levels are also so high in this country, for the sake of satisfying our specific demand.
Nonetheless, it was an absolute privilege to experience the fun of the market, to talk with and be informed by fantastic fishermen and buyers, the masters of this business, who have a genuine passion for their produce and the methods involved. I am taken back to this happy field-trip every time Nathan plates up that stunning piece of brill or line-caught sea bass as knowing its heritage, quality and that fact you can almost see the sustainability seeping from its fibres, seems to make it taste even more delicious than it already is!charlotte, little, looe, market