A managed fishing industry in Brixham, regulated by the Bailiff of the Water of the Dart, Officer of the Duchy of Cornwall, can be dated back to the 15th century and reports of high value catches such as Turbot, Sole and Plaice were recorded in the mid 18th century when better road links meant that Brixham's catch went to market in Exeter, Bath and London.
By the 19th century, the fleet and the expertise of Brixham's fishery heralded the rise of the east coast, deep water, fisheries in Grimsby and Hull, and by 1850 the port had the reputation of being the "largest fishery in England", landing high quality, high value fish. Later, in 1869 when the new Brixham railway started carrying freight as well as passengers, Brixham fish, packed in imported Norwegian ice could reach London's Billingsgate market in eight hours! A major factor in the expansion of the local fishing industry.
The success of Brixham's fishing industry was challenged in the beginning of the 20th century when the traditional sailing fleet could not compete with the new steam trawlers of the east coast ports around the important Dogger Bank fishing grounds and the dominant history of fishing in Brixham began to decline through the devastation of the First World War and on to the Second. Paradoxically, it was the Second World War that led to the revitalisation of fishing in Brixham, with arrival of Belgian refugee fishermen to the town with their knowledge of diesel engines. The ailing fishing industry started to rise again and by the 1960s the value of catch increased and the industry adopted larger Dutch vessels. A fishermen's co-operative was formed and by 1969 the now 70 registered fishing vessels moved from the inner harbour to the site of the present fish quay and the new period in the history of Brixham fishing began
Brixham Trawler Agents, formed in 1988 to fill the void left when port management company Brixham and Torbay Fish Ltd collapsed, now offer a full service to the fishing port of Brixham, including the operation of the fish market, provision of fuel for fishing vessels, production and provision of ice and a full financial settlement service facility for landing vessels.
The formation of BTA was facilitated by local boat owners and fishermen putting up the necessary capital to enable the company to be established. Shareholding is limited to fishermen and boat owners and the business operates in the style of a co-operative and has historically returned post dividend profits back to the industry by investing in new equipment.
It is through Brixham Trawler Agents that long term investment in the port has taken place. After many years of non investment BTA has committed itself as a company to reinvest profits, to the benefit of the industry and ultimate prosperity of the community of Brixham, in new graders, logistical infrastructure, dedicated lorry and trailer, a state of the art back room sales system and electronic auction and scales, much helped with grant aid from FIFG and EFF.
The port of Brixham has now re-established itself as the premier port in England in terms of catch value with over £26 million of fish landed in 2012. An important member of the top three fishing ports in England, situated in the South West; Brixham, boasts the lion's share of demersal and shellfish catches:
60% of the fish landed in Brixham is non quota, which substantiates the sustainability of the fishing industry and therefore the market in Brixham and with over 70% of our fish being sold for export we make a contribution to both UK Plc and to the local economy where the income generated accounts for around 18%* of the GDP of the town. *Torbay Development Agency