Seafood on display - ESE Brussels – an impressive display of seafood wealth and vigour

Well, if you needed confirmation that the international seafood trade was in fine fettle, then just pop along to the European Seafood Exposition in Brussels – a huge and impressive showcase for the globe’s seafood traders. There is undoubtedly concern about the full-, inefficient- or over-exploitation of marine resources around the globe, but what is harvested needs to be handled, processed and traded. At the Brussels Expo you can see the results – from fancy fish to fancy packs and recipes – a massive array of species and products on display from the smallest of island countries to the large country pavilions housing 20 or 30 company stalls.

Our visit there was an opportunity to catch up with old friends and colleagues, follow up business and sales leads through pre-arranged and walk-on meetings, and undertake key market research. Just as business was brisk at the Seafood Fair, so was it impossible to avoid the seafood talk in the restaurants and hostelries around the Grand Place in the evening (remember, maybe as many as 10,000 seafood professionals – the official press releases indicate 23,000 visitors over the period of the exposition - descending on Brussels for a period of three or four days).

Whilst displays were impressive, there was perhaps not quite as much extravagance on display as in former expositions. There was much talk about sustainability, eco-labelling, and the relentless pressure being exerted on the fishing industry from environmental lobbies – but there was also evidence that industry practices were responding to raised environmental concerns. But also a note of caution – not all eco-labels are as demanding as they could be, and seafood buyers, let alone consumers, are increasingly confused as to what standard(s) they should be supporting.

As usual the Scottish industry was well represented – on the Scottish pavilion, and also through the large stand-alone pelagic operators. And they were able to press home to many invited international visitors the unique qualities of the Scottish seafood industry at the Scottish céilidh hosted by the Scottish environment minister Mike Russell and organised by Seafood Scotland . This took place at a picturesque former in-door fruit and vegetable market in the centre of Brussels – not a stone’s throw from the old Brussels fish market and quay at Place St Catherine, where fresh fish was once brought by boat daily from the North Sea along the long canal system.