March 13th, 2010

Does My Bomb Look Big In This?

Behind the Scenes - Sydney Fish Markets



6.30am - I'm heading behind the scenes at Sydney Fish Markets. For me this is an insanely early start, so I am surprised to find the car park full. Everywhere I look there are white refrigerated trucks.



7.01am - Behind the retail outlets, this is the auction floor. Fresh product comes in from 3pm until 4am. Buyers arrive around 4am and look at the product, then at 5am the auction starts. Sydney Fish Market staff identify, check the temperature of, categorise and grade product, and set a price they think it will go for. They add three dollars to this price, and in the Dutch auction style, the bidding starts at this price and goes backwards. The first bid it hits wins.



7.08am - The men with the trolleys are hired by buyers to pick up their orders. They get an invoice, locate the product (note the poles have letters on them) and wheel it to the exit to be scanned out. They might collect for more than one buyer on the day. It's also a challenge finding the correct truck in the busy lot.



7.11am - Sydney Fish Markets is the third largest seafood market in the world by size, but second largest in terms of number of species sold. The floor is teeming with seafood. These are Blue Swimmer Crabs. The ones on the right are the girls who are thought to be better eating, the ones on the left are the boys, who are cheaper but prettier. In Queensland it's illegal to eat the girls, whereas here, it's just illegal if they're carrying eggs.



7.14am - How do you tell if a fish is fresh? It's impossible to tell when it has been caught by just looking at it. But you can look at the eyes. Being laid on ice can make them cloudy even if the fish is fresh, so look for their shape - you want the eye to be a nice round shape. If the roundness has sunk, it's been sitting around for a while. You can also look at the gills for good colour, and smell them for bacteria.



7.22am - The big game fish like Swordfish are in a separate section where they are graded. You'll note a cut into the tail, where graders look at the blood supply and colour. You can see two round holes on the one on the right, and a lot of healed scars, these are from Cookie Cutter Sharks who like their sashimi really fresh.



7.27am
- These are Yellowfin Tuna, again graded by a cut in the tail. These are line caught, and sashimi grade, which basically means they are caught and killed by a spike through the head within three minutes, and then put on ice. With the other fish, they might be thrown in the boat for a while before this happens.



7.31am - This is an Albacore Tuna (not as nice eating). On the right is a big round fish called Opah, which is the by-catch of tuna. They cut off the heads to save space on their boats that they really would prefer to be full of nice, expensive tuna.



7.39am - Live seafood is done separately in a cage. These crabs have tied claws to stop them attacking and damaging each other. In the wild they also stack on top of each other, so their current situation is not thought to be too stressful.



7.47am - On the left are Baler Shells (they used to use them to bail boats out) which chefs are using to enrich stocks. In the centre are Pipis, and on the right you see the ATMs that buyers get their invoices from. They then hand them to their picker who collects the items they have won the bidding for.



7.54am
- At the dock there are two types of boats making up our local fishing fleet, which incidentally is made up almost solely of men from Calabria, Italy with the family name Bagnato. These are trawlers.



7.55am - This is a long line boat, you can see the crows nest for spotting big game fish, and the long lines at the back.



8.00am - And that concludes my visit to Sydney Fish Markets. I leave a lot more informed about what happens behind the counters where I like to buy my seafood. With more light in the sky now, it's time to drive back over the Anzac Bridge. At least I'm heading in the right direction to escape the morning peak hour traffic.