Sydney Fish Market (SFM) has always provided leadership to the Australian seafood industry – an industry that is steeped in tradition and which has operated in similar ways across the generations. It was inevitable then, that SFM would take a leading role in the industry’s move into the digital world.

As the newly appointed Chair, I join SFM at the most pivotal time in the company’s history, with a new $750m market building now well under construction. But the past year has also seen the business evolve significantly, launching a significant rebrand and delivering an innovative new digital trading platform: the first of its kind in the country. 

While introducing an industry with such a long and storied history to online trading at significant scale will take some time, Sydney Fish Market is embracing the task of bringing the commercial seafood industry into the digital world. 

Of course, the history of fishing in Australia goes back many millennia: beginning with Indigenous populations fishing for sustenance (often using impressive infrastructure), then continuing with the first European settlers, and evolving gradually (through immigration and myriad other cultural influences) into the diverse, multifaceted and sustainable commercial fishing industry we know today. 

In an industry with a unique focus on community and history, it is important to maintain a sense of connection between seafood traders, even while forging ahead into the digital realm. Fishing has long been a career passed down from parent to child – many of those who trade through Sydney Fish Market represent the fourth or even fifth generation of the family business. It is truly a special opportunity to keep this sense of community alive, while also modernising trading methods and functions. 

Sydney Fish Market’s auction has been the benchmark for the purchase and sale of seafood in Australia since 1966, when it was operated as a traditional ‘voice’ auction. This system saw buyers assemble outside the sales bay fence, where inside an assistant would hold up samples of fish from each box, for buyers to bid on until the highest price was reached. 

The first change to the auction process came about in November 1989, when the NSW Fish Marketing Authority introduced a computerised Dutch auction, dramatically evolving and increasing the efficiency of seafood sales.  

Sydney Fish Market operations have now undergone their most transformative change yet, with the introduction of SFMblue, a landmark digital trading platform. 

The new system, which complements the existing physical auction, is providing a huge range of benefits for many participants in the seafood industry, allowing Sydney Fish Market to operate 24/7, expand its services further around Australia, and better serve both the aquaculture and wild-catch sectors by offering a broader range of transaction types – beyond the traditional auction. 

Distribution hubs in major cities across the east coast of Australia are in place to facilitate expansion and diversification of SFM’s buyer base, offering those buyers located outside of Sydney (and the communities they service) access to a much broader range of product.  

Sydney Fish Market is renowned for the diversity of species traded, including a wide range sourced locally in NSW and from across the country that are, at times, not commonly available in other markets. SFM also transacts significant tonnages of New Zealand seafood to Australian based buyers annually, meaning that there is huge potential to extend the focus of this trade beyond Sydney. 

While online seafood trading has taken off in Europe, Australia hasn’t yet seen the same level of adoption. To date there has not been an online market in Australia equipped to cater for a diverse range of commercial species – Sydney Fish Market provides a market for more than 500 species every year.  

As the number of seafood suppliers and buyers that prefer to conduct their business online grows, SFM can now provide both physical and online markets, which will each facilitate their own form of trading. Sydney Fish Market is uniquely placed to maintain the largest physical seafood market in the country whilst simultaneously moving the industry into the digital world, allowing suppliers and buyers to transact online, at auction, or both as required to meet their needs. 

I am thrilled to join the team at such a pivotal time. Sydney Fish Market has both a rich history and a dynamic future ahead of it, and I look forward to working with shareholders, the board and the SFM team to continue SFM’s transformation – both physical and digital – leveraging our position as a leader in the seafood industry.

Craig Davison is chair for the Sydney Fish Market and CEO of DB Schenker Australia and New Zealand.