brussels

Last week we moved away ‘from the water’s edge’.  We were in Brussels, quite far from the sea, witnessing where the world’s wonderful seafood is promoted, sold and bought.  For three days each spring I walk the corridors of five halls.  Each hall is 50% bigger than a football pitch. Welcome to the European Seafood Exposition, fondly known as the Brussels Seafood Show – without doubt the world’s largest annual seafood show. Everyone ‘in fish’ has to be there!

“A view from the water’s edge” sought ‘a view from the show organisers’.  The effervescent and charming Nicola Dunne is on the management committee of the family-run exhibition company that organises the world’s biggest seafood even.  The Brussels Seafood Show bestrides the seafood exhibition world like a colossus – the Boston Seafood Show and China Fisheries come a joint, but distant, second and, for your benefit, she shared some facts about the show. ESE attracts:

  • 1,700 exhibitors from 72 different countries
  • 25,000 fishy visitors from 140 countries
  • Boston has about 1,000 exhibitors
  • China Fisheries has about 970 exhibitors
  • There may not be ‘more fish in the sea’ but visitor numbers keep rising in Brussels

Heysel in Brussels is the venue and, within the shadow of this giant football stadium, trams disgorge visitors towards the vast expo area. If you came back the same time next month, you could compete in Belgium’s “Hairdresser of the Year 2013”.  If you come back in October you can enter your dog into the Belgian Dog Show.  However, according to a local taxi driver, “No one parties like the seafood people!”

Males outnumber females amongst visitors. Each day there is shoal after shoal of suited and tie-ed guys moving through the corridors. In 12 years of attendance (long service medal please Nicola!) I’ve met some truly wonderful people here, making business and personal connections that will last a lifetime. There have been some amusing moments in between the serious business of selling fish. Once I passed a tuna stand to see some earnest green warriors staring up from the floor where they had chained themselves together in support of the bluefin. They were discreetly dispersed. Our Boulogne customer asked for a refund on his stand one year. Faced by an Estonian stand opposite promoting canned mackerel, they had found themselves largely ignored. Nothing remarkable about that except the pretty Estonian sales girls shaking their cans (of mackerel) were in teeny weeny bikinis.

It’s amusing to see some exhibitors watching the clock on the final day, waiting as the visitors thin down for the earliest opportunity to dismantle their stands. Well here is something to think about for those twitching to pack up and leave. Arguably the most powerful seafood buyer in Belgium is part of the organising committee and he begins his rounds at 5pm on the last day. Ignoring those packing up, this walking order book visits only those still open for business – “the last shall be first”, as the old saying goes…

Andy Bing