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When the boat comes in: Villajoyosa fish market

Every weekday, Villajoyosa’s fishing fleet sets out at the crack of dawn; every afternoon about 4pm, you see them heading back to port from every direction, trailing clouds of seagulls in their wake.

That’s when the fish quay on the far side of the harbour springs to life. It’s well worth taking a walk round there to see what’s going on.

As the trawlers dock, the dripping crates of carefully sorted fish and seafood are handed up from the decks onto the quay, piled onto trolleys and wheeled into the auction hall run by the Cofradía de Pescadores, the local fishermens’ co-operative.

Go round the back of the building and head inside to watch the action; take a seat on the little grandstand alongside the professional fish buyers and see the catch being sold off.

It’s surprisingly hi-tech. If your idea of a fish auctioneer was a guy with a white coat, a loud voice and a hammer, think again. This is all computerised; more like a fishy dealing room in the City than a traditional market.

The crates come slowly in from the boats on a conveyor that runs right to left in front of the buyers. The details of the catch – the type of fish, the name of the trawler that caught it, the weight - flash up on a bank of screens. An overhead camera takes a picture of each crate, and that’s also displayed on the screens, so the buyers can see what's on offer without moving from their seats.

The buyers all have a palm-sized remote control, rather like the ones you get in a TV game show studio, which they use to bid electronically. The prices whiz up and down (mostly down) for a few seconds as the rival bids go in, until the final figure is settled. The name of the successful buyer flashes up on screen, a machine prints out the details and drops a ticket onto the fish. The crate is then hauled off the conveyor at the far end and loaded into one of the waiting refridgerated vans and lorries round the back. Sorted. From trawler to delivery van in a matter of minutes.

It’s a fascinating watch, and a real crash course in Spanish fish names (see my blog on fish and shellfish menus here). Once the show is over, head outside for a cold beer at the bar next door and decide which of the fish you’ve just seen will end up on your own dinner plate.

© Guy Pelham 2017

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