Take a trail of fishy discovery from Sutton Harbour, Plymouth

PUBLISHED: 09:30 04 September 2014

Plymouth Fish Market

Plymouth Fish Market


It’s an early start for OWEN JONES as he joins a fascinating fish trail from Sutton Harbour

Ben Squire offers expert advice on cleaning and filleting mackerelBen Squire offers expert advice on cleaning and filleting mackerel

You need to get up early to fully appreciate the work involved in putting a fresh fish on your dinner plate or supermarket counter.

It’s 7.30 in the morning and while many in Plymouth are just waking up, the city’s Sutton Harbour fish market is alive with activity.

Heavy plastic crates and trays filled with ice-packed fish of all shapes and sizes are waiting to be dispatched. Their destinations are being decided in the auction room upstairs.

But if you’re expecting a noisy crowd jostling to attract the attention of the auctioneer, you’ll be surprised. The auction takes place in a surreal silence. Each bidder watches a digital display which shows the price of the catch – which gets lower every second - and the name of the boat that landed it. It’s a Dutch auction, where the successful bidder is the first to click when the price falls to what he’s prepared to pay. Many buyers are not even in the room – bidding from a laptop at home. It makes for fast transactions and calls for decisive buyers.

Whiting in batterWhiting in batter

I’m witnessing these scenes as part of a FISH (Fish In Sutton Harbour) trail organised by Devon company Graze and Flavour which specialises in gourmet trails and taste encounters.

The early start is essential and offers a unique chance to meet trawlerman-turned-harbourmaster Pete Bromley who gives a fascinating and forthright insight into the workings of the fishing industry now and in years gone by.

Later, after a bacon butty and a cup of tea at the nearby Boathouse Café, the trip becomes hands-on, as we board one of the Plymouth Boat Trips fishing boats.

As we head out of Plymouth Sound, beyond the breakwater, we’re handed fishing rods and introduced to skipper Colin Helson – a man who has been fishing all his life and, we’re told, can ‘catch a fish in a puddle’.

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We reach the ‘drop off’ – an underwater cliff where mackerel lurk. Colin lives up to his reputation, dropping a many-hooked line into the sea and almost immediately reeling in a mackerel.

Now everyone wants to try, and soon all of us are pulling in fish – mainly shiny silver mackerel but also a fair number of whiting. After a while Colin moves the boat to another spot, over a wreck, where yet more whiting are caught. The smaller fish are returned to the sea. The larger ones will become lunch.

Too soon it’s time to head back to port and here’s where another lesson takes place. Back at the Boathouse Café Ben Squire, who owns Plymouth Boat Trips, teaches us how to clean and fillet the fish we’ve landed.

And then we enjoy the freshest fish we’ve ever eaten. Some of the mackerel is served raw, sashimi-style, with a sinus-tingling mustard and soy dip. The whiting returns from the Boathouse Cafe kitchen in a delicious batter and a side order of chips.

Enjoyed with a glass of chilled white wine, it’s the perfect way to end a fascinating tour that will make you appreciate every fish dinner you eat.

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