Customers may not be aware, but the Sydney Fish Market is much more than a retail centre selling seafood to consumers. It is the thriving beating heart of the seafood industry for NSW. Privatised in 1994, The Sydney Fish Market Pty Ltd is owned jointly by the Merchants and Tenants (the market tenants, seafood retailers and wholesalers) and the NSW Fishermen's Holding Company (fishermen and fishing co-operatives from across the state). They pay the state government approximately $2 million per year to lease the land.
Every day, at 5.30am more than 100 registered buyers meet for the daily auction of an estimated 3,000 crates of fresh seafood featuring approximately 150 different species. Approximately 20 tonnes (or over 1,000 crates) are sold every hour. Seafood is sent to the markets from all over NSW, including Newcastle as well as Tasmania, the Northern Territory and New Zealand. It is auctioned off using a Dutch tulip method of setting the price above market value and the auction running backwards, with buyers submitting silent bids as the price goes down. The seafood is then shipped out to all parts of the state.
In recent years, the Sydney Fish Market has been going through some major redevelopment including the implementation of a digital auction online trading platform called SFMBlue which enables buyers to bid from a distance and untethers the process from its location in Blackwattle Bay. The new technology is seen as future proofing the industry. Of course, the biggest change to occur at the markets is the $750 million development of an entire new facility due to be completed in 2024. The new facility will include a public viewing area, where consumers and tourists can watch the auction process and gain a deeper understanding of the seafood supply chain. Once completed it will be the biggest seafood market in the world and is expected to be a world class attraction, coming in third behind Sydney Opera House and the Sydney Harbour Bridge in terms of tourism visitation.
The redevelopment aims to showcase sustainable fishing practices and the coastal towns where the seafood originates from to encourage people to visit. It will include more public space, more cafes, restaurants and dining options, specialty shops, boardwalks, a ferry pier, undercover parking and an interpretive centre. The redevelopment addresses a number of issues the existing facility faces such as overcrowding and the smell from rotting fish, the result of seagulls stealing offal and leaving carcasses to rot in the car park. The new complex will put all the operations under one roof and the only smell will be that of the ocean, fresh fish and delicious food. Critics of the development are concerned about the loss of history, the working port character and worry over the increased competition for business.
The history of the Sydney Fish Market began in 1872 with the development of the first fish market in Woolloomooloo – built by the city council. Always blessed with an abundance of seafood, it was an important source of food for the early colony. Prior to the first fish market building, fish-o’s used to hawk their wares on the streets and around the bays. A private market was developed in Redfern in 1891 but was closed in 1923 when the council took control of fish marketing. From 1914 to 1966 the markets ran out of Haymarket and then moved to the current site in Blackwattle Bay.
No story of the Sydney Fish Market would be complete without a mention of the rich Italian heritage of the families who pioneered the fishing fleets and well-known seafood retail outlets. The Sydney Fishing Fleet which is made up of ocean fish and deep-water prawn trawlers, has been largely operated by one family, the Bagnatos for decades, beginning with Diego Bagnato who arrived in Australia in 1957 from Calabria Italy, followed soon after by several brothers. Together the brothers bought and sold many trawlers over the years and fished the waters from Ulladulla to Port Stephens. Inside the fish market, Italian names like Poulos, De Costi, Claudio's, Nicholas and Musemeci have been serving up seafood for decades. This Italian or Mediterranean heritage is celebrated each year at the Blessing of the Fleet Festival in late September where the public is invited to participate in this centuries-old tradition with a ceremonial parade of the Saint Mary of Safe Harbours, followed by music, food, net mending demonstrations and spaghetti-eating competitions.
Here at Dawson's, we work closely with third parties that bid on fish at the Sydney Fish Market daily on our behalf so that we can bring the best produce possible to our customers.