From the fish auction to our cargo hold

If you want to find out why we switched the airport for the fish auction on a cool june morning, follow our study visit to the “lota” and discover the good fish circuit in the Azores.

At least in theory, anyone who has the duty of preparing for the worst crisis scenario knows that every crisis hides an opportunity. And, although the pandemic didn’t bring good things, it also confirmed that a sustainable future can only be built with cooperation and effort.

We decided to walk this path with our customers and partners, as we believe that we can start a new chapter in the history of air cargo transportation between the Azores and the rest of the World. Follow us!

The administrations and management teams of the SATA Group and Lotaçor came together in a kindly guided visit by Pedro Melo, Secretary-General of the Azores Fish Merchants’ Association.

Even before entering the fish auction, Pedro Melo warns: “For some time now, Thursday is the weakest fishing day of the week. There are fewer species caught, less fish for sale”. Following the conversation, Cíntia Machado, Chairman of the Board of Directors of Lotaçor, added that this was the reason why today’s fish auction would have less affluence than usual. Mondays are a better example.

The first step is understanding how fish gets to the auction, how it’s preserved during the journey, how the purchase is organized, and how much fish is expected to be exported because that’s precisely where problems begin. Why? Since the catch is something unpredictable, fish exporters won’t know, in advance, how much fish they will have for air transportation. And, not knowing for sure how much there will be, they book an approximate space in the cargo hold. And when this estimation doesn’t match, everyone loses. Fish traders lose, whose stock space they won’t use; the airline loses, declining other transport. Finding the best solution for all parties involved is one of this meeting’s goals.

At the airport, there is a landside and an airside. The same happens at the fish auction.
The seaside is where boats arrive to unload the fish. And although it was not possible to watch closely when the “Diana Catarina” or “Lucrécia” approached, it is impossible to remain indifferent to the landscape surrounding us. The day dawned gray and, on the horizon, sky and sea blend together. The seaside of the auction is extraordinarily beautiful. It makes us think about how important it is to find a fair balance so that we can extract what nature can offer us without hurting our extraordinary sea habitat. The fishing practiced in the Azores is sustainable, responsible, and important for the whole world to know and value. And this is the path sought by those responsible for the sector.

But if the quality and freshness of the Azorean fish are well known, the truth is that Mother Nature needs a little human intervention to preserve it. We realized that the species captured are measured onboard; that below a certain dimension the best thing to do is to return fish to the sea; that reaching the auction, this gesture of environmental responsibility is done to the millimeter; that after landing, the catch is labeled so that its origin is clear. The strong blue box we will see later, full of properly treated ice, enters the circuit and is now in the hands of Lotaçor teams that try to separate and profile the fish so that it is presented to the buyer. And so, the auction begins.

Daylight begins to appear on the horizon, but inside “Lota” the auction is almost over. Thanks to the good use of technology, there is a fish box parade in front of us and the fish trader buys by remote control. The product information is inscribed on the television. There are countless species shown in a never-ending display. Along the way, we repeatedly heard a beep and, soon after, we came to know that fish was sold at the price appearing on the screen. The fish auction system is surprisingly sophisticated. It would be wrong to think that an auctioneer would catch a fish by the tail and shout a price into the air. That time is over! The intense smell of fish has also disappeared: the environment is clean and acclimatized. How surprising!

By this time, fish buyers have already finished their purchase. There is a significant part destined for export. And this is the point that matters most to SATA Cargo. From now on, the fish exporter and the carrier deliver the task. Fish must continue to be properly packaged. Nothing must spill from the boxes into the cargo hold. Salt is corrosive and we must also take care of the aircraft that transport the good fish from the Azores. It’s a teamwork that requires a shared sense of responsibility.

The visit started at the auction but will not end here. It is necessary to understand Clients’ difficulties and what we can do to help reduce their anxiety. Always guided by those with knowledge in the field, Pedro Melo takes us to the company Lurdes Narciso, LDA. It is a family business, a reference in the Azores Archipelago, awarded in 2019 with the distinction “Best Company in the Azores”. Carmen Narciso welcomes us at the door. Minutes later, the facilities are visited along with Edmundo Narciso, an export trader.

Father and daughter confirm: fish from the Azores is recognized, highly pursued and increasingly appreciated. It is unmatched in taste and freshness. And maintaining its freshness becomes the responsibility of the exporter. It is with care and organization that fish is packed in well-sealed styrofoam boxes. Boxes are labeled and travel on a refrigerated van to the airport. We are almost at the end of the circuit. At SATA Cargo’s offices, everyone’s updated about the fresh fish and know that boarding priority must be guaranteed. It is necessary to organize the available space, define what is a priority and what can be expected. The decision is not always easy: you don’t want to harm anyone. Customer satisfaction is our priority.

Let’s go back to the beginning, to COVID-19 and what the pandemic taught us: we learned, for instance, that we can stop leisure traveling, but we can’t live without essential goods. That there is a strong interdependence between all the islands in the archipelago and that the SATA Group has an important role to play in this scenario. In the last few months, SATA Cargo took the lead in the air operation, embracing its mission and cooperating closely with its Customers. A daily cargo operation was maintained. In addition to the transportation of hospital supplies or basic necessities, the need to ensure the transport of food goods abroad has not been forgotten to allow the continued excellence of all Azorean products in highly competitive markets.

Upon reaching the end of the journey and of the visit, the main challenge facing the airline is space availability sometimes created almost upon closing flights. Fresh goods such as fish take priority, but, as we have seen, the forecast of the catch is only estimated. And when the fishing is generous, cargo holds are quickly filled with styrofoam boxes containing fish. To satisfy our customers, we seek the best solution for each situation, knowing that, joining efforts, we will always achieve better results. On our side, at SATA Group, we will always be willing and able to do it, because we feel that there is a better future lying ahead and because we are sure that #weflybettertogether.