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Freshest Fish Traded In The Dead Of The NYC Night

By 2:30 a.m., one of the key items on his handwritten list of orders â¿¿ 400 pounds of striped bass â¿¿ remains unfilled from among dozens of vendors.

"I'm getting nervous," he says.

The day's hundreds of offerings â¿¿ including crabs, clams, mussels, slimy squid, octopus and caviar â¿¿ are spread out across the floor in ice-lined boxes, a shimmering spectrum of silvers, pinks, reds and browns. Buyers, some vying for the same, scarce items, point to a specific box and cry out, "That's mine!"

All night, dozens of men in coats and wool caps work to the soundtrack of mini-forklifts whizzing around, honking and spewing exhaust as they move seafood-laden pallets. The smell is a mixture of the fishy and the fresh scent of the ocean.

Nunez finally spots some striped bass. But when he lifts the gills, "it's no good; they're brown," he says dejectedly. (The gills should be bright red). Plus the skin is dry, the eyes are cloudy, and it smells funky.

The hunt continues for the rest of his list: scallops, shrimp, squid, monkfish liver, fluke, shad roe, blowfish.

He spies black sea bass from New Jersey at $6.75 a pound. "How many do you have?"

"One hundred pounds," says vendor John Dias.

"How about $5.50?" Nunez asks.

Dias relents.

Nunez later nabs red snapper from the Gulf of Mexico. He feels the fish, smells his fingers. It's fresh. OK, 60 pounds.

At another stall, he pops a raw Nantucket Bay scallop in his mouth, smiling. It's $20.50 a pound compared to a normal price of, say, $16. But these are extraordinary, and fresh â¿¿ "like a baby's bottom" to the touch.

Just before 3 a.m., a vendor whispers in Nunez's ear: Some striped bass might be on the way â¿¿ maybe.

He waits around for a while, and sure enough, a box lid opens to reveal eight bass from Delaware, weighing 121 pounds. Now, where to find at least 180 pounds more? He rushes off, scouring the cavernous market. And he gets lucky, landing 100 pounds.

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