‘Going nowhere’: The rise of Grimsby’s Amy Salisbury

Matthew Wilcox

Particular & Co founder Amy Salisbury is launching a media career. Here she tells SalmonBusiness why Grimsby really is great and what she plans to do next. 

If you have anything to do with fish, sooner or later you’ll end up in Grimsby.

And if you want to understand what makes Grimsby tick you could do worse than to have Amy Salisbury for a guide.

The town at the mouth of the Humber on England’s east coast is one of the largest fish processing centres in northern Europe. Today, nearly 6,000 people are directly employed in over 50 seafood processing factories and trading businesses across the town.

Its worth about £2 billion to the region – spread out over an industry that supports more than 10,000 employees across sectors such as ports, logistics, distribution, cold storage, and engineering … you name it.

Those are the facts. But they can be hard to square with the reality. Grimsby isn’t a place that reveals itself easily to an outsider.

Grimsby as it was, the fishing capital of the world. Photo: Archive

I first met the 38-year old former senior sales manager in 2022, when I had made the pilgrimage to Lincolnshire to interview her about the launch of her seafood brand, Particular & Co.

Walking the Cleethorpes seafront ahead of our interview on a December day, with the wind blowing off the North Sea, I was finding it hard to picture the town as the one-time epicentre of the global fishing industry,

Not so long ago, the docks played host to hundreds of trawlers their holds brimming with the day’s catch. But every golden age must come to an end, and just as Grimsby reached the zenith of its glory in the 1950s, the cod wars broke out and the town’s fortunes ebbed away like the receding tide.

Photo: Julia Bacon

Resilience training

Today, The once thriving docks appear almost deserted, many parts are in ruins. But Grimsby knows its heritage.

The thing about Amy is that her dad fished with Bunny Newton. That’s a name that still means something in the town.

Google it, sometime, if you have a few hours free and want to go down an internet rabbit hole of fishing lore and wild stories; The time Bunny lost 2 men while fishing up off the Faroes. How Bunny was the last English skipper to be charged with ‘Piracy on the High Seas’; The time Bunny and Amy’s dad were captured and imprisoned by the Icelandic authorities during the Cod Wars; How they got their jailers drunk and made a break for it with the Icelanders chasing after them (below).

Once you understand something about Newton, about the kind of men who fished with him, and the kind of work that was, you begin to understand something about Grimsby, and maybe even something about Amy.

Going nowhere

Salisbury’s trajectory in the competitive, male-dominated realm of fish trading has been marked by persistent effort, easy charm and sheer bloody mindedness.

“I had a trickier time when I very first started. Some of the old guys would try and push me into a flap. But I used that as my drive to show them I belonged and was going nowhere,” she says.

“It was all highs because the job is never finished. There’s always more fish coming, so you keep going,” she recalls. Nevertheless, building trust was a gradual process, “Some people it would take an age to gain trust, but if you just keep at it, they would come round sooner or later,” she says, reflecting on the resilience needed in such a fast-paced environment.

One memorable breakthrough involved an Irish client known for his terse responses.

“I just couldn’t seem to get in – all I would get were yes or no answers,” she says.

“Then one day there was a disaster and I had to call to explain, a small swear word might have slipped out of my mouth, then that was it! A soft chuckle at the end of the line.”

Leveraging her expertise and heritage, she eventually carved out a niche for herself trading millions of pounds a year of fresh salmon at Grieg Seafood and Bremnes Seashore-backed sales venture Ocean Quality, which at its peak meant handled more than 130,000 metric tons of salmon per year.

In 2019, Salisbury had an idea. She picked up the phone to International Seafoods, owned by Morrison’s, the fifth largest supermarket in the UK, and pitched them a deal to use spare capacity at the company’s state of the art processing facility.

Two years and a major international pandemic later and her brand boasts 29 different product lines and a deal with a national supermarket.

A grand tour

2022 was the year Amy was appointed an ambassador for the town’s Made Great in Grimsby campaign to highlight the contribution made by seafood to the region. It was only later than I came to realize how seriously she took the role.

Since I had come all the way, Amy said, perhaps she could give me a quick drive around the town.

She drove us past the cold stores, around the docks with its tangle of tram and railway lines. She talked a little about her dad’s time as a fishermen with ‘The Beast’:

She pointed out Young’s skyscraper of a headquarters; the massive empty shell of the ice house; the dock tower modelled on the Torre del Mangia on the Palazzo Pubblico in Siena; The brass plaque on its west side is inscribed to fishermen who worked as minesweepers during the war: “1939 A tribute to those who swept the seas 1949”. Among them, her grandfather RNR Skipper William John Salisbury.

And back to the old town: The hotel with the peepholes in the wall; The Cleethorpes miniature railway; The processor that once received two pallets of salmon with no eyes; The nightclub bought by Bunny when the fishing business went south; The nightclub burnt by Bunny when the nightclub business went south; The doorway Bunny’s son shot him dead at point blank range in.

We drove out away from the docks to the real centre of Grimsby’s processing industry Young’s, ISI, New England Seafood International, Morrisons – the massive unpicturesque cluster of functional warehouses at the edge of town where every one of the UK’s supermarket giants buy their fish and seafood products from.

Made great in Grimsby

Catching up with Amy a year later, talking Grimsby, and the seafood industry more broadly, you get the feeling her frustration lies in her inability to offer personalized tours to everyone.

Its a sentiment underscored by the lack of direct communication between the seafood industry and consumers, epitomised by the rolling PR crisis the salmon industry finds itself in.

“There’s just so much misinformation out there,” she says. “There’s, damage from bad press, from the Netflix documentaries.”

Salisbury appearing on Sky News at Grimsby Fish Market. Photo: Julia Bacon

Over the past three years, Salisbury has represented both Grimsby and her own company at events like Love Cheese Live.

There, she had shared the stage with celebrity chefs such as Michel Roux Jr, James Martin, and Marco Pierre White, demonstrating her natural ability to connect with audiences.

Reflecting on her experience, she explains, “I just go on hyperdrive. You end up with about 30 people around you asking questions. They are truly interested…”

Salisbury is now becoming a regular presence on channels like Sky News, where her easy-going style and understanding of local issues make her a television natural.

“Being able to speak direct to consumer, you understand what it is that’s lacking in the industry, or what people are really looking for,” she says.

Despite the challenges facing Grimsby and the seafood industry at large, Salisbury remains undeterred, and outlined her plans to launch a cook book, part of a plan to raise her profile to better help explain the industry she loves.

“Those cooking demonstrations made me think, crikey, people are absolutely terrified of cooking fish at home. They will eat fish in a restaurant. They see it as a bit of a treat but they just absolutely did not know how to cook at home. So I just thought right, okay, we can fix this, can’t we?”

Don’t bet against her.


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