Sydney Fish Market’s 36-hour marathon set to draw ‘manic’ crowds

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Bring your eskies, says Sydney Fish Market seafood educator Mandy Hunt.Credit: Dion Georgopoulos / The Sydney Morning Herald

The curb in spending has shifted the popularity of some seafood categories this year. For instance, flathead – which can see price fluctuations from $40 to $80 per kilo – is being substituted by the increasingly popular gurnard, a more affordable alternative with a similar texture and taste profile said to be even sweeter than flathead.

While prawns will remain a popular choice, customers are expected to consider school prawns – at $20 to $25 a kilo – instead of their larger counterparts, tiger or king prawns, priced about $60 a kilo.

On the other hand, appetite for more premium seafoods such as lobster and oyster won’t be dampened as Australians plan for a Christmas feast.

“There are people that just know they’re not prepared to make any sacrifices,” said Hunt.

Lobster supply is abundant. Thanks to Beijing’s ongoing trade ban on lobster exports, there will be plenty of Eastern Rock lobsters as well as West Australian lobsters, which are usually destined for China.

For Sydney Fish Market retailers, the 36-hour marathon represents roughly a quarter of their annual sales. Preparations begin as far as three months in advance as they secure supply, organise logistics and hire extra workers. While they are reticent about revealing turnover, a single retailer is said to bring in as much as $1 million during the 36-hour window.

Nicholas Seafood Traders and Peter’s manager Angelo Vaxevani will do a 24-hour shift, get a few hours’ rest at midnight, and then be back at it from about 6am on Christmas Eve.

“It’s gonna be manic,” he said. “Every year it gets busier and busier and busier.”

He’s observed customers pare back their spending over recent months. “People aren’t buying like they used to … Instead of a kilo, they might be buying a half-kilo, three quarters. Instead of buying two types of prawns, they’ll buy one, stuff like that.”

But the holiday cheer has lifted sales volumes as well as Vaxevani’s spirits. “People do spend in festive times.”

Hunt recommends avoiding the Sydney Fish Market at 11am on Christmas Eve, when foot traffic is expected to peak.

The early hours of the morning are your best bet: “2am on the 24th will be a great time. There will still be people here, it will still be busy,” she said. “Everything is open … coffee will be flowing.”

For those coming by car, avoid the main car park and instead try Sydney Secondary College a few hundred metres away.

And come prepared. “Bring your esky. Ice is your best friend,” Hunt added.

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