Our History

During the Christmas period of 1994, the Fish Market on the western side of Sutton Harbour closed for the last time. Despite having a roof, the old market had been open to the elements, subject to flooding on the highest spring tides, attractive to dogs, irresistible to rats and the fish was prone to sunburn when the sun rose on summer mornings. Under the EU Health and Hygiene regulations, the market's final dispensation ran out and with it went a wealth of history, humour, tragedy, poverty and the eternal hopes of hundreds of fishermen. 

A new fish market had been built by Sutton Harbour Company (SHC) on the eastern side of the harbour as part of the re-development of the port which included new quay walls and lock gates.

The lock gates were installed for flood prevention primarily and the ongoing decline of the fishing, coal and timber industries within the harbour presented SHC with the ideal opportunity to modernise and adapt.

 The welcome retained depth of water which came with the lock gates enabled SHC to accommodate the demands of the burgeoning leisure class by installing a marina. This in turn led to the need for an improved environment around the harbour as it changed from an industrial emphasis to a leisure, business and residential one.

 Unfortunately the new market was seen as something of a "white elephant" by regional and national fishing interests.  Traditionally, the larger boats in the Plymouth fleet had landed to other ports because of the weakness of the local market.  In 1994, only £700,000 of white fish had been auctioned on the old market, a sum which would have generated just enough commission to run a second-hand Nissen hut.  It was probably no surprise that the original plans for the fishing industry within Sutton Harbour had been much reduced as the modernisation of the harbour took place.  The Lockyers Quay pub and restaurant now stands on ground planned for a ship repair yard, boat hoist, engineering workshops and Mission to Seamen building.   

The fish market lay unused because SHC was unable to persuade any of the family firms of auctioneers from the old market to resume auctioning at the new facility because of the increased business costs associated with the move.  SHC was also unsuccessful in persuading any of the regional or national firms of auctioneers to operate on the Fisheries Complex.  The history of small landings was not the only reason prospective auctioneers were reluctant to gamble on a new venture.

  SHC adamantly refused to give up the fuel monopoly it held in the harbour.   Auctioning fish was not considered to be a profitable business per se and other streams of income were considered essential for such a business to succeed.

The choice facing local fishermen was simple.  They would have to "overland" their catches to Brixham or Newlyn in future or  form their own auction company.  All advice in polite nautical terms was to give the idea of forming an auction company a very wide berth.  After a series of lively meetings held in the appropriately named "Mad Hatters Cafe,"  the decision was taken by fishermen belonging to Plymouth Trawler Owners' Association to form an auction company to operate on the new market.  Persuading about fifty argumentative,independent and quarrelsome fishermen to agree on anything was quite remarkable.  Persuading them to put their hands in their pockets was even more remarkable. 

Things did not get off to a good start, however, when it was realised someone would have to find out how to set up a suitable company and someone would have to begin negotiations with SHC.  Matters had been progressing smoothly until four volunteers were asked for.  Fishermen, of course, have an unshakeable opinion on every subject imaginable.  They expect someone to carry out their wishes without question, usually for free. The word volunteer prompted an instant stampede for the door. Any physical fitness expert would have been both startled and impressed  with the speed and dexterity with which some allegedly ageing and arthritic fishermen left the room.  The result of course was that the PTA formation and negotiating team consisted of the four slowest thinkers and movers. 


The Spawning of a Company

The perils of sitting down with perhaps a dozen fishermen to decide on the type, structure and policy of a new company quickly became apparent to the four reluctant volunteers.    The prospective company would have co-operative aspirations but it certainly didn't need co-operative style management if it was to clear the first hurdle.  The volunteers took just 35 seconds to realise that a committee of twelve fishermen was positively dangerous.  Sensibly, they threw any notion of democracy straight out of the window and then hurled the idea of a committee of fishermen out of the window as well. Next they set up a private limited company with an enlightened dictator in charge supported by four similarly minded directors. 

It takes a little money to set up a company, a lot of money to employ people and a great deal more money to provide the cash flow to make the whole damn thing work. Plymouth fishermen and merchants stepped forward in difficult times to kick start the Company knowing full well that it was a very risky venture. In the first instance the not inconsiderable sum of £28,000 was raised.

A private limited company was set up in the name of Plymouth Trawler Agents Limited with an authorised share capital of £100,000 made up of £1 ordinary shares. Initially the Company had about 50 shareholders, the majority of whom were unstable fishermen, plus a couple of equally unstable fish merchants and  a handful of very kind, philanthropic shareholders who  wished to see the continuation of the commercial fishing industry in Sutton Harbour.

Much attention was paid to the  Articles and Memorandum of the Company to try and ensure it would stay in the hands of fishermen, in the unlikely event that it became a success. A maximum was put on the number of shares any shareholder could have, restrictive voting rights were put on larger shareholdings and the Directors were given the final say on any share application or transfer.


The set-up of the Company was a serious business. The basic business of fish auctioneers is to sell fishermen's catches,recoup the monies from the buyers and pay the vessel owners out on the agreed date.  The boat owners agreed "to work a week in hand" to help the Company's cash flow and to ensure it could meet its commitments.  The rapidly growing customer base meant that many fishermen's families were dependent on the Company to pay them for their hard-earned livelihoods so within a very short time, failure was not an option. 

An acknowledgement should be made of the help Sutton Harbour Holdings plc (SHH) gave to Plymouth Trawler Agents Limited in its infancy despite the fact it was obviously in its interests to do so.

Plymouth Trawler Agents began trading on the new fish market on 2nd February 1995 with just three full-time staff, several volunteers and a lot of goodwill. In its first year of trading it achieved sales of £1.8 m and survived a takeover bid from a rival auction in the harbour, occupying one of the few pieces of land not owned by SHH.



The Juvenile Years

In its second year, sales had jumped to £5.4m, over 50,000 shares had been sold in the Company and several of the local beam trawlers, essential to the success of the venture, began to lend their support regularly.  The years 1996-2000 saw sales undulate between £5m and £7m as the Company sought to establish itself.

Two unrelated matters around the turn of the century defined the future for the PTA.  One was an unwelcome appearance for the Company in Plymouth Magistrates Court when it pleaded guilty to 36 charges of breaching and failing to comply with the Sea Fishing Order 2000. Put in layman's terms, the Company was handling and auctioning "black fish" on behalf of some of its owners. The result was fines and legal costs totalling just over £57,000 which caused the Company much eye-watering, pain and discomfort, just as it was intended to do.  The other result was that the Company took the decision not to handle black fish in the future.

There had been a long history of non-compliance in the UK Fishing Industry and a great deal had happened in Plymouth prior to the case.  Nonetheless the Company was guilty on all charges and had no choice but to plead accordingly.  The Company takes no pride in its court appearance but nor does it believe in airbrushing history. 

The other defining moment was the positive decision to purchase an electronic auction system (EAS) from Schelfhout Systemen Ltd of Belgium in1999 which was the forerunner of the EAS on the secure internet site, refined and improved by Aucxis Ltd in 2005.  This decision was the main reason for the success of the PTA in recent years as it provided fishermen with a genuinely competitive auction and buyers with reduced overheads.

Sales in 2007 were £8.4m, in 2010 they were  £13.5m, in 2012 they were£16.4m, in 2014 sales reached £17m before dropping back to £15m in 2015.

Today the Company has just over 100 share holders with a share capital of £107,567.  Each year it sells some or all of the catches of between 380 and 420 individual vessels.

Port Traffic

All rights reserved Copyright © 2024 Company No: 02974209 Disclaimer Privacy Policy Sitemap