Early morning auction in progress at the Auckland Fish Market. Photo: Sai Raje.

Auckland sure knows how to enjoy its fantastic seafood spread. Snapper still rules supreme, of course, but there’s a wide variety of seafood–from perch to parrotfish–that this diverse and discerning market laps up.

By Sai Raje

The Auckland Fish Market buzzes to life as early as 5am on a weekday when the auction viewing begins.

The auction room fits over 3000 seafood bins, all neatly graded, labelled and stacked each morning, as registered buyers stream in to view the seafood.

Regular suppliers sell 50 to 60 seafood species every day to a cross section of about 80 buyers, from local restaurant and fish and chip shop owners, supermarkets and even a couple of exporters. The auction room has all the bestsellers on display, from snapper, tarakihi, and hapuka to trevally, kingfish and flounder. But the auction is not just about these big market species.

A range of freshwater species, such as goldfish, catfish and carp, are on offer alongside saltwater species such as alfonsino, ruby fish, banded wrasse (parrotfish), sea perch and leatherjackets.

Auckland Fish Market Auction manager Margret Hall says the growing value and demand for these historically lesser value species is driven by the region’s diversified cuisine and increasing Asian seafood buyers.

“For example, leatherjackets were around $0.50/kg and are now $3.00/kg. “Japanese (Spotted) Gurnard has also become more popular because gurnard is harder to get and more expensive,” says Hall.

Invasive freshwater species such as catfish, goldfish, and carp are especially sought after by Auckland’s large and diverse Asian markets, she says.

“If we didn’t have this diverse base, we would be selling only snapper. “We are urging more suppliers and buyers to join in, all species have their own niche demand.”

Live fish sales are also an area of focus for the market, with fast changing buyer demographics and Sanford Ltd trialling new fishing technologies such as Precision Seafood Harvesting.

“The trialling stage of Precision Seafood Harvesting has allowed for some good quality live species. “We expect to grow the live fish sector as we go along,” says Hall.

The viewing done, buyers make their way to an adjoining hall, where the auction begins by 6am, with the help of a large bidding ‘clock’, displaying a description of each seafood lot on offer, and includes seating and bidding consoles for 85 buyers.

The auction is New Zealand’s only ‘Dutch auction’ for seafood, which works on a price drop instead of the conventional price rise mechanism. The clock starts about $2 above the expected price per kilo for each lot on offer. The price then drops until a buyer stops it by entering a bid on their keypad. The buyer’s name appears on the clock to confirm the transaction’s quantity and price. About 15 buyers prefer to participate in the auction remotely on a daily basis, from the comfort of their office or home. They access a live video feed of the auction screen on their computers and are given an idea of the seafood grading as well.

The Auckland Fish Market Auction also offers a host of value-added services for buyers, including free training for first time buyers at the auction, filleting and processing of seafood for a small fee, and the option of participating in a remote auction if you are not based in Auckland.

“A remote auction makes it really efficient and easy to access great fish from anywhere in New Zealand,” says Hall. A good buyer range and a wide variety of species on offer in very, clean hygienic setting is another plus, she says. 

Auckland Fish Market and Auction

The Auckland Fish Market and Auction sells 20 to 30 tonnes of seafood per day (including 182 species a year). Of this, ½ a tonne is sold at the market’s retail section, which also includes a boutique food market, restaurant and cafe. The market also offers at least 30 different species of smoked fish – from salmon and gemfish to kahawai and eels. Its smokehouse ‘The Kremlin’ processes more than 400 kg of fish every week. For more information on buying or supplying seafood at the Auckland Fish Market auction, call 09 379-1490.