The stages, processes and trading requirements in the marketing of coarse fish for recreational use in the UK.

The UK have always had freshwater recreational anglers, although recently the total numbers have fallen. Moves towards heavily stocked pools has increased, and created more demand for fish. For the purpose of recreational fishing, fish can be purchased from two main sources. Firstly through aquaculture where the processes and marketing are very similar to food fish; the important difference is that the final product is sold alive. Secondly, and the basis behind this report, is the role of consultants whom by definition are 'middle men'.

This report will discuss the role that consultants play in the marketing of live coarse fish; outlining the procedures involved with the marketing and selling of coarse fish in the UK.

Relevant species
The author has actively partaken in the delivery of many freshwater fish species and whilst doing so has seen changes in consumer demand over the relatively short period of 8 years. The marketing of coarse fish is a comparatively new business, and although small quantities of fish were available, the market did not really become established until the early 1980's. Up until the early 1990's the main fish species demanded by the consumer were carp (Cyprinus carpio) with tench (Tinca tinca), Bream (Abramis brama) and roach (Rutilus rutilus) also available, but these were not often sought after. With the very recent revival of sites such as rivers and canals, the demand for species is again changing. Roach, tench, bream, crucian carp (Carassius carassius) and rudd (Scardinus erythrophthalmus) became, and still are, the most demanded species, but due to the high production costs it is impratical to produce these species through culture techniques. This left consultants acting as 'middlemen', the only real suppliers of such products.

The consultant, on occasions, will also interact with fresh fish markets. Although this would also be on a 'middle man' basis rarely do the suppliers receive money from the consultant as the main species, pike (Esox lucius) and zander (Stizostedion lucioperca), are removed due to their pest status. This process would in fact result in the consultant being paid twice, once from the owner who wanted rid of the fish and then by the fish market. The author has experienced these circumstances whilst delivering to Billingsgate fish market, London, and on each occasion the market requested these species live for sale to Chinese and Japanese clients. Demand for these species is high, but unfortunately supply is low, which makes this an occasional venture.

Product and Sales techniques
The only product type available from this practice is live fish. Whether the fish are produced through culture techniques, or a consultancy is involved, no additional processing is necessary. The key factor that places wild coarse fish above the quality of those produced on farms is the introduction phase to the new water body as acclimatisation problems are greatly reduced.

The one factor that sets this trade apart from many others is the process of acquiring the product. Although the consultant is a 'middleman', in the transaction he has to do more than just purchase the easily collected and delivered boxes of fish that is common in the wet fish trade.

Commonly a supplier will make contact by expressing an interest in selling the part or full contents of their lake. The absolute quantities, size ranges and fish quality within this lake is usually unknown, therefore investigations into the lake's history, prior to collection day, should be carried out. This will allow the consultant to contact his customers, who on occasions, have to wait for long periods of time before the correct product can be located; this is always stressed to potential customers on first contact. Once an overview of the lake contents has been gained the consultant will attempt to catch these fish, usually with seine nets or traps, before the selling process can continue.

Although the market for coarse fish is lucrative, there is some level of doubt concerning whether the fish can be caught or if they are even present. This uncertainty of the 'hit and miss' technique of product collection makes continuity of supply almost impossible. With little knowledge into the suppliers lakes' the whole process can be costly and somewhat unrewarding. Care must be taken, as the incorrect choice of product suppliers will lead to financial problems and just as importantly customer dissatisfaction.

With consultancy firms, production costs are zero, but this does not mean to say limited funds are required to start a business of this nature. Firstly, the start up costs with regard to equipment is high, secondly a skilled work force is required to run the operation efficiently. These combine and create high fixed and variable costs, and these added to the time consuming nature of product collection all result in an increased price being demanded for the product.

The final point involves the role of the requirements needed before any product can be sold. Although consent to net ponds and lakes is no longer required both certificates for movement and health are still obligatory by law. These can be gained from the environment agency (EA) through an application. Fish need to be passed healthy before a movement order will be granted. The consultant usually undertakes these two processes as incorrect paper work can lead to the confiscation of equipment by the EA plus the possibility of a heavy fine. All the parties involved in a transaction should receive a copy of each document.

Only three real outlets exist for live coarse fish - angling clubs, commercial fisheries and private lake owners. Of the three, the most important customers are the commercial fisheries as the strong competition in this area gives rise to occasional bulk buying. Although buying in large quantities is experienced in this trade, rarely is there continuous supply to regular customers. Commonly a client will only be dealt with once, especially with respect to angling clubs and private lake owners. For this reason it is important to gain a large customer database as it is common that many future sales will be gained from the process of 'word and mouth' from previous clients. It is essential a good service and product be offered to take full advantage of this very influential, but highly unpredictable promotional technique.

The main competitors within the coarse fish market are other similar fishery consultancy firms. It is in the author's experience that a slight difference between firms' prices will not put customers off, as the main criteria is always quality. If the company employs a strict regime of only delivering healthy, good quality fish on a regular basis, they will gain respect within the market and this is essential. As the views on coarse fish suppliers are fickle it only takes one disastrous delivery coupled with bad public relations (a common problem in the trade) to give your competitors the edge.

Aquacultue is the other competitor in this market; Steel et al. (1998) suggested that the numerous fish rearing facilities in the UK should be utilised for stillwater species as they are in great demand yet difficult to obtain on a commercial basis. This is of coarse true, but what they failed to indicate is that the rearing of these fish to marketable size is a long and difficult process. Rarely do the currently producing culture operations offer fish over 3" in length.

Due to the customer demands, namely the immediate return on investment (for this the fish need to be caught the following day), fish produced by aquaculture are too small and will take time acclimatising, especially if produced in re-circulation systems. Importantly, these fish are purchased by large regional parks and authorities, but only in the interest of replenishing low stocks, usually river systems.

Cultured fish are purchased sparingly, thus the author suggests that there is a demand for reared fish, but it is not a threat to the fishery consultants market.

Location and transport
Location is not of real concern as long journeys are expected in this market. It is not often suppliers and customers appear together in a 60-mile radius, therefore transport costs are commonly high. If there is a reasonable quantity of fish available the consultant will manipulate sale outlets to reduce transport costs by delivering to the closest customer. This of coarse is obvious, but also uncommon, and with such a specialist market and the 'hit and miss' technique of gaining the product, guarantees of delivery day are rarely given.

Figure 1: A commonly used delivery vehicle in the transport of live coarse fish. The tank can hold up to 750lbs of carp or pike, but a little as 300lbs of roach or bream due to the varied oxygen requirements. Four wheel drive allows access to wet, muddy lake perimeters. When empty, the truck can also be utilised in the towing of equipment to and from jobs making it most versatile. Source: M. Couchman
Figure 2: A large delivery lorry carrying 4 tanks that can hold a total of 2000lbs of live fish. These vehicles are common in the aquaculture of salmonids, but their high running costs make them a rare choice in the movement of coarse fish. Source: M. Couchman

Figures 1 and 2 show the different transport options available for moving live fish. The smaller vehicle (Fig. 1) is the most commonly used by the consultants. It obviously, by sheer size comparison to Fig. 2, cannot move large quantities of fish at one time. Many lakes have a poor, unsuitable passage at both supplier and customer ends. The smaller vehicle has the advantage of entry to many places that the lorry cannot access. Dependant on the species type, each individual tank can hold on average 500lbs of live fish if well oxygenated. Bulk movement is an obvious option with the lorry, but bulk buying is not that common, therefore the overall advantages of cost and viability are with the smaller delivery vehicles.

Pricing and payment
Prices and pricing schemes will obviously vary between companies as with any trade, but distinct differences in techniques can be seen within the coarse fish market. Table 1 shows a selection of prices from the scheme of one of the well established consultancy firms in the UK. As indicated by this table, fish are sold in numbers until they reach a certain size, usually 10", and then on are sold by weight. The alternative to this method is simply selling all fish as a total weight of delivery. The author has experienced both methods and suggests that the second option is more beneficial for the following reasons - it is a less time consuming method when loading; more accurate knowledge of what the customer is receiving; aids dealing with the supplier as they will be paid as a total weight and fairer on the customer. The author believes this final point is critical because, for example, a customer will be put off from counting total numbers of fish, but may be willing to weigh the fish when delivered.

Table 1: A table showing a selection of prices from one of the UK's most established coarsefish dealers. Measurements, both weight and length, are indicated in imperial which is still the common way fish are sold in this trade. Source: Anon (2000)

Common Carp Per 100 Per 500 Per 1000 Tench Per 100 Per 500 Per 1000
2" to 4" £45 £40 £35 3" to 4" £95 £75 £50
4" to 6" £70 £68 £65 4" to 6" £165 £153 £130
6" to 8" £155 £150 £145 6" to 8" £295 £275 £250
2 - 5 lbs £3.95/lb     Over 10" £7.50/lb    
10 - 14lbs 8.90/lb            
Roach       Pike      
4" to 6" £38 £35 £25 10" - 10lbs 1.75/lb    
6" to 8" £95 £80 £75 10 - 14lbs 2.95/lb    
8" to 10" £295 £275 £250 14 - 20 lbs 3.50lbs    

Live fish have a tendency to lose weight under transportation conditions, this must be stressed to all parties if the customer has expressed the desire of checking the total load weight. If requested, a mean sample can be taken and an approximation of total numbers can be made and experience says this is usually sufficient.

An important point to iterate is that the first option, selling by numbers, has been suggested to be a way of cheating the customer. This is purely speculation, although the author has witnessed, on occasions, this method being used incorrectly, therefore a strong suggestion to any potential consultancy would be to review and maybe change the current or potential pricing schemes to that of total weight. Live fish, not aimed for human consumption, are subject to VAT, also delivery charges are common which reduce as larger quantities are purchased, these reductions work on the basis of money spent and not total weight.

Payment is undertaken in various ways and is solely dependent upon individual firms. Full invoicing is imperative to all parties involved as this limits confusion and discrepancies in the transfer of monies. This invoice acts as a contract and will contain total weight or number of fish, the suppliers address (normally the water body the fish have been taken from), the purchases address and signatures from all parties involved. This will then be followed up with a business invoice containing the price plus VAT and payment details.

Prices are always quoted prior to delivery, but, and this should be stressed to purchases, the product may vary slightly to that what was ordered. This is common, as in many cases, the product has not been viewed by anybody before it has been caught. This is why selling by numbers (which specifies fish length) relates better to culture productions. Selling by weight allows this slight discrepancy in size range, but still allows the delivery of the correct ordered weight.

Commonly payment is staggered, resulting in the 'middle man' receiving payment from the purchaser before he settles with the supplier. The author is aware that some firms demand payment before delivery; this option should be discouraged. Commercial fisheries, due to their business like nature, do not entertain this method of payment scheme due to the obvious high risks involved with purchasing live fish.

Any good business venture requires at least adequate promotional techniques. With such a specialist product, promotion and advertising placement is reasonably easy, but penetration of the market is difficult. For example, the majority of larger consultancies advertise in the angling press, this is aimed directly at the angling clubs and their representatives and is an excellent technique for lodging a business name into the memory of potential customers.

Other techniques of contacting potential customers could come through tried and tested methods such as post, fax, telephone or personal communication, however more recently the use of e-mail and the construction of web-sites is common practice. Any of these aforementioned contacting techniques must include important features like who you are? What you supply? And the cost of the product in the form of a price list.

Two other important areas require exploration, firstly regular visits to the two large angling trade fairs that take place yearly. Secondly and most importantly is the addition to the EA reputable fishery consultants list. This is distributed to potential customers on request by the EA and the only rules that concern the addition to this list are involve the showing of a good working practice. Involuntary removal is also common as the EA are strict about the quality of the firms they promote.

The coarse fish trade is lucrative but contains many different processes, can sometimes be unrewarding, economically disastrous and requires large amounts of capital to begin in business. Whilst there are anglers this trade will continue to thrive, but in the long-term the author believes that aquaculture will play a larger role despite all of it's disadvantages. On the whole, the marketing of coarse fish is a relatively easy process once the product has been gained. Unlike other industries, such as the wet fish trade, the difficulties lie more with the source than with any end marketing processes.

Anon. (2000).Coarse fish prices [on-line].
Steel, R., O'Hara, K. and Aprahamian, M.W. (1998). Recreational fisheries: the realities of stocking coarse fish in the UK. In I.G. Coax (Ed.). Stocking and introduction of fish, pp. 99-111. Fishing news books, London.


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