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When the boat comes in: behind the scenes at Villajoyosa fish market

Bringing the catch home

Every weekday, Villajoyosa’s fishing fleet sets out at the crack of dawn. And every afternoon from around 4pm onwards, you see the boats 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. They’re piled onto trolleys and trundled into the auction hall run by the Cofradía de Pescadores, the local fishermen’s co-operative.

Drop in on the fish auction

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.

Crates of fish and seafood come in on a conveyor from the boats, and move slowly in front of the buyers
Each crate gets its own photo, displayed on the screens. Other monitors show the name of the boat, the type of fish, and – most importantly – the price.
Buyers watching keenly from the grandstand. Each buyer has a handheld remote – they press buttons to bid electronically for the fish they want.

The crates come slowly in from the boats on a conveyor that runs 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. 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 and loaded into one of the refrigerated vans and lorries round the back.

Sorted. From trawler to van in a matter of minutes. Nearly 1.5 million kilos of fish pass through here every year.

A lone lobster makes his way down the conveyor
Catch of the day

It’s a fascinating watch. And once the show is over, head outside for a cold beer at the bar next door to decide which of the fish you’ve just seen will end up on your own dinner plate.

Fishy tourism!

La Vila’s fish quay is now doing guided tours (pesca turismo) as of 2022. There are two options – on the shorter tour, you get to watch the boats come in and unload their catches, there’s a visit to the auction and a tasting afterwards in the bar next door (€20pp, 2 hours).

For the more adventurous (or less seasick!) there’s a trip out to the fishing grounds too – duration 3 hours, cost €55pp. I’ve not done either of these tours yet, but there’s a promo video here that gives you an idea of what’s on offer. There are tours in English too. To book, call 00 34 613 02 34 49.

More fish and seafood info

For a handy guide to a Spanish fish menu, see my blog here. For a seafood guide, see here

©Guy Pelham. Additional pictures ©Paddy McCullough

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