The marketing of fish in Sydney was haphazard at least until 1872 when markets were opened, first in Woolloomooloo and later at the Haymarket.
Until 1945, marketing was done by licensed fish agents at the Haymarket, or by unlicensed operators elsewhere. In that year the NSW Chief Secretary took control, and in 1964 the Fish Marketing Authority was formed. A new site, Blackwattle Bay (cross reference), was acquired in 1966. Oil depot buildings were reused and the Public Works Department built new wharves and facilities. In those days, fish were sold using the labour intensive, traditional ‘voice’ auction system. This system saw buyers assemble outside the sales bay fence, where inside an assistant would hold up samples of fish from each box for buyers to bid until the highest price was reached.
During the 1980s a new market and quay-side shops were built south of Gipps Street. Sydney Fish Market Pty Ltd was formed in 1994, when the NSW Government privatised seafood marketing. Two shareholders, the Catchers Trust and the Sydney Fish Market Tenants and Merchants Pty Ltd own the company. In the late 1990s NSW deregulated fish marketing and the Sydney Fish Market lost its monopoly of sales.
In 1989, Sydney Fish Market (SFM) introduced a computerised Dutch auction. Modelled on the ‘reverse’ auction system, which has been used for over 130 years to sell tulips in Amsterdam, SFM’s auctioneers set the price approximately $3 higher than the assumed market price. The clock then winds down at a rate of $1 per revolution and the price drops until a buyer stops the clock by pressing a button. The successful buyer then selects a number of crates from the ‘lot’. In February 2004, state-of-the-art digital video projectors were installed to enhance the auction clocks. These large screens face toward around 150 to 200 buyers each day.
In addition, in 2001, SFM launched its online-based seafood trading system, SFMlive.
Sydney Fish Market attracts more tourists than any other Sydney site except the Opera House. It is the largest market of its kind in the southern hemisphere and trades over 13,500 tonnes of seafood annually. The Authority organises the weekday wholesale auctions when 1,000 crates or 20,000 kg of seafood are sold every hour. It has also operated the Sydney Seafood School since 1989. The market accommodates six seafood retailers, and several other shops and restaurants.
In November 2016, the New South Wales Government announced that the market would move to a new 35,000 sq m complex on an adjacent site. The new $250 million complex will include 15,500 sq m of seafood retail space – compared with 6582 sq m of space for the existing site.