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Lee Coglan and Eddie Benton © John Cole

Hastings Fishing Families on show in Parliament

Normally, Paul Joy and the other Hastings fishermen go up to Parliament to talk to DEFRA and European fishing organisations, but last night, they were the stars of their own show in the House of Commons. HOT’s Erica Smith went ‘up to town’ to visit the show and meet the stars of the sea.

“Generations, Hastings Fishing Families” is a photographic exhibition by HOT’s very own journalist and  photographer John Cole. A more extensive version of the exhibition was originally exhibited at Hastings Stade Hall, but a selection of the images have been exhibited in the Upper Waiting Hall of the House of Commons and will be there until the end of January.

Hastings and Rye MP Amber Rudd, who has long supported the Hastings fishing community and is sponsoring the exhibition, said, “The fishing industry, and the families involved with it, are incredibly important to me and to Hastings and Rye.”

Jimmy and Steve Edmunds © John Cole

A fishing fleet has been established in the area for 1,000 years, and whilst our fishing fleet is widely acknowledged as an essential element of Hastings’ life in the 21st century, unless things are made easier for small boat fishermen, there’s little to encourage younger generations to take over the helm and maintain a steady course for the next 1,000 years. John Cole’s photographs document our local fishing community – he has photographed Hastings’ fishermen for over 20 years. His wonderful photographs celebrate this down-to-earth and out-at-sea bunch of families, but whilst the young men in his earlier photographs get older, there’s a noticeable lack of younger faces in his most recent photographs.

Coastal fishing communities throughout the UK have welcomed the government’s support of recent EU legislation making major changes in the way fishing quotas are distributed. The under ten metre fishing vessels – such as the Hastings’ fleet of boats – make up three quarters of the commercial fleet in the UK, but previously they have been awarded only a tiny percentage of the overall catch, meaning many struggled to make ends meet and were forced to dump fish overboard once their quotas were used up, or risk fines for over-fishing. “It’s the best news we’ve had in a long time”, said Paul Joy, chair of the Hastings Fishermen’s Protection Society (HFPS) and co chair of the New Under Ten Fishermen’s Association (NUTFA). “It should put the quota in the hands of boats which will actually use it to fish – and in an environmental and sustainable way.” Although this is good news for Hastings, it is really only the beginning of a continuing struggle to protect the UK’s traditional fishing fleets and the communities they support. With this new legislation and persistent pressure to support the small fleets, fishing communities in England, Scotland and Wales that have long been on the edge of extinction now have a stronger chance of surviving and prospering.

Fishing in Hastings has always been a family business, with some of the family names going back over 800 years. However, this financially precarious and often dangerous profession has little to attract a younger generation when those vessels that provide such social, economic and environmental benefits have so little quota allocated to them. Hopefully with continuing legislation in favour of the under 10 metre fleets, more young men, as well as women will be able to make a living from the sea, thereby supporting local communities and supplying the freshest and most sustainably caught fish possible.

John Cole, who is delighted to have his work on show in Parliament said: “This is a work in progress, as I have really only scratched the surface of recording the generations of Hastings fishing families. I want to continue until I’ve photographed as many of the different generations of Hastings fishing families as I can – and then explore opportunities to photograph traditional fishing communities elsewhere in the UK and Europe.”

Darren (birthday boy), Kevin & Mark © Erica Smith

For me, it was the first time I’ve been to Parliament, and also the first time I’ve really had an opportunity to talk to the fishermen and their wives. How strange to have to go to London to meet the people who share the same town. All of the fishing community who attended the show are local. They are hard-working and hard-playing souls, and they were happy to talk about their lives over a pint of beer whilst we waited for the train home.

Wanted: youngsters with guts!

It is undeniably a hard life – not many people want to set off at 8pm on a Friday and stay out at sea until 10am the next day. Buying a licence to fish isn’t cheap either – starting at several thousands of pounds depending on the exact capacity of your fishing boat and what you are licensed to catch. Then there’s the four certificates you have to train up for before you will be licensed to fish. It all costs money and time.

And that’s only the start of the bureaucracy that a fisherman has to tackle… there’s IFCA inspectors and MMO inspectors, and your daily catch has to be logged and registered, and at any time there might be helicopters checking up on what you are fishing for, or a surprise inspection on the beach.

Equally – whilst Pat and Tush might look like they are making easy money out of their hot fish rolls, Tush will have been up since four that morning filleting every fish that goes in the frying pan. Fish needs to be fresh, and that means that gutting and cleaning needs to be started as soon as the fish are caught.

When I asked Paul Joy from the HFPS if there were any young fisherman coming online to take over from the older generations, he said yes, and mostly from the established fishing families. John Cole’s photographs hint at the gritty reality of life on the fishing beach, and it’s a life that not many outsiders choose to take on. If you are born into a fishing family, you know what you are letting yourself in for when you choose a life at sea.

It was a real honour to spend time with the Hastings fisher-folk last night, and share Darren’s birthday drinks. I wouldn’t want their job, but I’ve got huge respect for what they do. Long live Hastings’ Fishing Community, and long may small boat fishing continue from our shores.

For more information, visit www.hastingsfps.co.uk

Posted 15:51 Wednesday, Jan 29, 2014 In: Hastings People

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