Fishing helped to establish Plymouth as a leading international port as the city spawned from early beginnings as ‘Sutton Pool’ into the bustling, modern destination it is today.
In Victorian times, fleets of trawlers and drifters regularly used Plymouth as a marketplace, and it was said you could walk dry-shod from one side of Sutton Harbour to the other simply by crossing the decks of fishing boats moored up in the harbour.
This demand resulted in a fish market being erected in 1892 on the quayside adjacent to the Barbican, and the Victorian structure served the city for over 100 years with the open-sided building famous locally for the sights – and smells – it afforded passersby of fishermen selling their catch at auction.
In 1995, Sutton Harbour Holdings plc made a substantial investment in creating a new, purpose-built fish market, working in conjunction with Plymouth Trawler Agents to design the premises for Plymouth Fisheries on the opposite side of Sutton Harbour.
Today Plymouth Fisheries has grown to become a fisheries hub for the entire South West region and turnover has soared from £250,000 a year in 1995 to a staggering £19.4million in 2014/2015.
The market sells 6,000 tonnes of fish and shellfish every year, making it the second largest fish market in England.
Each day, up to 40 boats ranging from 16ft line-caught bass fishing boats to 35-metre scallopers berth at 110 metres of landing quays within the safe haven of Sutton Harbour protected by lock gates.
Fishermen landing fish at other ports in the South West often choose to drive to Plymouth Fisheries to sell their catch too, with up to 70 per cent of fish sold in Plymouth arriving by road.
The success of Plymouth Fisheries is in large part down to its determination to ensure the city’s fish market is truly accessible and fair for local fishermen, working alongside Plymouth Trawler Agents to pioneer a silent digital auction system which enables dealers to log in and bid online from anywhere in the world, so fishermen get the best possible price for their catch.
The bustling fish market is a colourful addition to Sutton Harbour and visitors are able to see behind the scenes by taking part in a privately arranged tour through companies like Graze and Flavour offering this service.
But anyone can try the day’s catch for themselves at one of the many restaurants, cafes and fish and chip shops surrounding the harbour, with fish often cooked the same day it is landed in Plymouth – see our guide here for some ideas.