Today we drove to the fishing port in Ponta Delgada to rendezvous with our friend Ernesto, the Auction and Cold Storage Director for Lotacor, the largest fish auction enterprise in the Azores. Lotacor is an impressive operation with facilities on three of the nine islands and is responsible for the majority of fish kept on, and exported from, the region.
Before heading to the warehouses and auction area we walked down to the harbor where the boats dock to offload their catch. With Ernesto as our guide, and interpreter, we not only received a brief lesson in the global migration patterns of various tuna but also had the good fortune to visit the Milao Horta, one of the largest tuna boats in Ponta Delgada harbor. These are men of the sea and they value their privacy so it is not everyday that non-fishermen are allowed aboard.
However, Captain Joao being the gregarious, quick-with-a-smile, seafaring man that he is agreed with zero hesitation. In fact, he was proud as a parent to show us around. Once aboard he showed us the tanks brimming with bait, followed by several below deck compartments filled with hundreds of big eye tuna resting on ice. From there we descended to the engine room where it was louder that standing next to a P51 Mustang on full throttle. It is easy to understand why these men are always yelling.
Up next was the captains station and personal quarters followed by a trip to the upper deck where the best views for spotting tuna are found. With the wind and light rain lashing our faces we descended back down to visit the galley and dining area, where we were told, the captain and crew enjoy some pretty good meals. As would be expected, abundant plates of fish are usually the main entree.
After leaving the boat we toured the outdoor off-loading, processing and weighing area as well as several large refrigerated warehouses before sitting in on the twice daily auction. Lotacor is a meticulously clean operation with hundreds upon hundreds of large, stackable blue buckets filled with more fish than you can count. On our visit we observed a lot of fish, with one big eye tuna in particular weighing in at over 200+ lbs.
Sitting in the auction gallery, which is similar to a small movie theater (without the popcorn), Fernanda was the only women in the raucous, testosterone laced room filled with anxious buyers vying to snap up the best catches, at the days lowest prices.
With a steady stream of buckets passing by on the conveyor belt it is a dizzying exercise in concentration to understand who is buying what, how much, and at what price. One look at the parking lot full of white vans ready to get their daily haul delivered around the island and we quickly understood the pressure on the buyers.
From fish of varying sizes and species along with line-and-pole caught tuna to computer screens conveying the market value of the day’s catch we were able to witness the wild convergence of the labor of men at sea with the stark economics of feeding a hungry island, and a hungry world market.
Remote buttons click away. Bids are placed. Men yell.
Whispering is strictly forbidden.