American writer and humorist Mark Twain once said: “The news of my death has been greatly exaggerated.” So too with the Portland Fish Exchange, according to new director, Mike Foster.
As Foster explains, an article that came out in Mainebiz in late June gave the impression that the Exchange, which has been in operation since 1986, was on its last legs.
“The timing of that article was really bad,” he says. “Landings were low. Since then, a lot of fishing grounds have opened up, and we’re seeing a lot more fish coming through. We had three auctions this week, one was 33,000 pounds, which brought in the big buyers. We had one for 12,000, just one boat, and we’re having one tomorrow for over 20,000 pounds, which should bring the big buyers again.”
Foster reports competitive prices, in some cases above average, and as many as a dozen buyers bidding on the fish.
“And the quality, there’s nothing like it. Our boats are making short trips, we’ve got the gillnetters. These aren’t ten-day trip fish, and the buyers are seeing that and paying for that. Especially our local buyers buying small lots.”
As Foster describes it, the death of the Portland Fish Exchange has been exaggerated. “We’re still here and things are picking up,” he says. “And we’re going to be here. The Auction needs to be here to serve our fishermen and our buyers.”
Nonetheless, Foster acknowledges that the Exchange is going forward with plans to diversify use of the facility in order to help keep it going.
“The city still has an RFI [request for interest] out, and we’re having conversations with our neighbors. We’re looking for ways to store more bait, for example, and we’re looking at whether we can lease some of the space. We’re talking to a bluefin tuna buyer who could possibly set up here, which would be a first. We’re also looking at whether some processing can happen here.”
Foster points out that while the auction is seeing bigger volumes, great quality and decent prices, the auction alone cannot sustain the facility. “Something else has to happen here to bridge the gap for those slow times.”