The first Sydney fish market was built by the City Council and opened in 1872 at Forbes Street, Woolloomooloo. Prior to this, fishermen had hawked their catch around the streets or sold fish direct from their boats in Sydney Cove or at Woolloomooloo. The market was relocated to Sydney’s Haymarket in 1914 and to Blackwattle Bay in 1966.
In an article in Sydney’s Evening News in 1909, the appropriately named Mary Salmon recounted the history of fish marketing in the city. She quoted from Surgeon Cunningham, R.N., who wrote in around 1825:
Sydney is most abundantly supplied with fish. They are caught with hooks and lines, chiefly toward the heads of the harbor, by the native blacks principally, and disposed of by them to the retailers, who hawk them about the town. The sounds of “Fish O!” chimes agreeably upon your ear early in the morning – agreeably, I say, because they recall to your remembrance, even in these unmusical strains, scenes one has so newly forsaken. Kingfish, mullet, mackerel, rockcod, whiting, schnappers, bream, flathead, are all found most abundantly about Sydney.
Salmon went on to describe the building of the first Sydney fish market. The original market building, measuring about 83m long and 22m wide, was soon too small to serve the growing city of Sydney and it was expanded in 1888 and 1893.
Meanwhile, a private fish market opened in Redfern in 1891. This was not to the liking of many residents, who were woken at 4 o’clock in the morning by “the rumble of fish carts and the vulgar ejaculations and rude railiery of the hawkers”. However, the Redfern market continued to trade until 1923 when the Sydney City Council took control of all fish marketing and private markets were closed.
In 1914, the Woolloomooloo fish market was closed and fish sales were moved to the Municipal Markets in Haymarket. In 1945, under the Fisheries and Oyster Farms Act, the State Government assumed control over fish marketing and introduced a regulated system for sales.
The fish market was moved to a site at Blackwattle Bay, Pyrmont, in 1966. The Sydney Fish Market is now the biggest in the southern hemisphere handling around 14,500 tonnes of seafood a year. It is a significant tourist attraction, offering cooking classes, restaurants and tours. The wholesale market auctions are now conducted via a sophisticated computer system, a far cry from the chaos of that first Sydney fish market where baskets of fish were tipped in heaps onto the floor. There are plans for a new fish market building around 400 metres from the current Blackwattle Bay site, to be completed in 2023.