Hastings & St. Leonards on-line community newspaper
Photo Lucy Phillips

Photo Lucy Phillips

Hastings Harbour: Complacency could be dangerous.

Fisherman Paul Stanley gives his views on the Harbour scheme, and talks to HOT’s Chandra Masoliver about life in the Hastings fishing industry. It is an eye-opener to understand how devastating the effect of the scheme would be.

Complacency about the harbour scheme is dangerous. Already Hastings Borough Council and the scheme proposers, Hastings Harbour Quarter Ltd., have met with the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), a government department created by Theresa May on July 14 2016.

I asked Kevin Boorman, Marketing and Major Projects Manager for Hastings Borough Council, to tell me about the meeting’s outcome. He replied “Sorry, no, I can’t, it’s not a council proposal, but a private sector one. I am sure they will brief the media, and the local community, when it is appropriate to do so.”

The scheme greatly affects the fishing community, the Old Town and beyond. Therefore I believe it would be appropriate, if we are living in a democracy, to be informed and consulted with every step of the way.

Photo Paul Stanley

Paul Stanley with trawl Photo Chandra Masoliver

CM: Paul, could you explain to me about the Hastings fishing industry and what a fisherman uses to carry out his work?

PS: In Hastings we have three main ways of fishing: we fish with trawls, trammel nets and pots.

Trawls are funnel shaped fishing nets that are pulled along the bottom of the sea by a trawler. The trawl doors, called otter boards, drag along the seabed, their design keeps the trawl open through the boat’s towing power. The fish swim in its mouth and finish up in a bag called a cod end. This has an opening which is tied with a knot that can be quickly pulled, so when these very heavy trawls are hauled on board they are easily opened, and the fish, still alive, are emptied on deck.

Otter board Photo Chandra Masoliver

Otter board Photo Chandra Masoliver

Then there’s fishing with trammel nets, which don’t need to be made of such strong material, because they are set nets. The outer wallings are made of thicker and bigger mesh, of eighteen inches for example. Then there’s the inner, thin mesh, of different sizes according to what you’re fishing for – like you need a four inch mesh for sole, and a six inch one for big plaice and cod.

Floats are strung along a light cord at the top, and weights are strung to the bottom on heavier, leaded cord. Four to eight, or even ten, nets up to fifty yards long are joined together to make up a fleet of nets. Each end is tied to an anchor, and that’s tied to a dan that marks the ends of the fleet. Dans are made of steel, from the end of a scaffolding pole; there’s a float attached half way up, and it’s topped by a flag. Most boats have their own colour for the flag.

Dans. Drawing by Derrick Moss

Dans. Drawing by Derrick Moss

The fleet of nets will spread out for about quarter of a mile when the boat shoots the net over the side. If the tide is ebbing, you’d throw the east end towards Fairlight first, and the west end towards Eastbourne last, always so the flow of the tide stretches it out. There’s more work to release the fish in this method, the fish swim in through the wide netting, then get ‘bagged’ in the fine netting, which twists up so they can’t escape.

Fleets are left out all night, or maybe two. Fishermen used to locate them by sighting them from points on shore, and by ‘steaming time’ – how long it takes to get from the nets to the shore. Now they can use a GPS signal.

You’ll see a lot of pots and other equipment down the beach – there are lobster pots, which are rarely used. Nor are the scallop dredges used now; there used to be a big bed out by Beachy Head’s Sovereign lighthouse, but it was destroyed by foreign trawlers. We still use whelk and cuttlefish pots. They are let down on lines with an anchor and a dan at each end, like with the fleet of nets.

Drawing by Derrick Moss, who says “Although one cannot forget the ever- changing moods of the sea, the inherent dangers of the fishing industry and the courage of the fishermen, there is a certain calmness about the busy beach.”

Drawing by Derrick Moss, who says “Although one cannot forget the ever-changing moods of the sea, the inherent dangers of the fishing industry and the courage of the fishermen, there is a certain calmness about the busy beach.”

CM: Please tell me a bit about yourself and your family history.

PS: My grandfather and my uncle were fishermen, and my father Mick has worked here all his life. When I was very young he was trawling on the boats. He also made the trawls, and that’s a great skill. There are only four men left in Hastings who can make them, and my father is one of them. He also made them for other people, to have some extra pounds. It’s not just about making regular netting, it has to be cut to a design and then sewn together. They come ready made now, though they still need adjusting and making up.

Paul and Mick Stanley. Photo Chandra Masoliver

I first started helping my father make the wallings for the set nets when I was six or seven years old. I filled up the needles for him; I wound the cord round the centre part of the needle and he made the walling; different ply is used for catching different kinds of fish. These needles are used for making, and for mending, nets.

When I was eight I would skin huss – I got numerous cuts! I used to go to the fish market, I’d help with the boxes and watch the auctions. From May to September there’d be night trawling, that’s when the sole come up. I’d be there at 5.30am, before school, to help with the trows, the blocks placed to haul the boats up and down; there’s a big one for the keel, and smaller ones for the side that leans towards the bilge. I’d be given some fish as a reward, and after school I’d knock on the doors of the people I knew would buy them. I also worked for Johnny Swann’s fish shop. All my mates did this, and we’d fish together.

At eighteen I started to work in a printer’s office. I’d do a week on and a week off, like that I could work on the RX134, now berthed opposite the Dolphin Inn. Mark Little, the landlord, keeps her in trim. Then I got fed up with printing and I’ve gone back to Boy Ashoreing and helping my dad again.

CM: How did you first hear about the Harbour Project? Were you consulted on it at all? 

PS: I knew nothing about it until it was announced on television, around the time it came out in the Hastings Observer on 1st September. The fishermen were not consulted.

CM: What are your thoughts on the practicality of the Marina part of the scheme?

The draft plan for the harbour development

The draft plan for the harbour development

PS: The map shows an open marina, not with lock gates like they have in Eastbourne. You’d need a pair of lock gates, and they aren’t shown on the map. One would hold the water in the marina, and the other – at the mouth of the marina – would have to let the water in at low tide, like in a canal system. The marina would not work without a lock system.

Without lock gates you’d get the tide rising and falling, so at low tide yachts would be sitting on the rocks. If they were landed on when it was windy a boat would be smashed to pieces. Each band of rocks is called a ledge, and if there were lock gates, all the ledges along Rock a Nore would be permanently submerged. These rocks have Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) protection, they are of historic value, so they can’t be touched.

Rocks at Rock A Nore Photo Paul Stanley

Rocks at Rock A Nore Photo Paul Stanley

As to the pontoon on the map, it would have to be hinged, so it could go up and down with the tide. Also, it would have to be on a solid concrete footing, and because of the poisonous chemicals in the concrete that would kill everything living in the sea. The Eastbourne pontoon was built on a load of fresh water gravel pits; it was just reclaimed land with a shore-based building, so it didn’t impact too much on the sea or the seabed around it.

The harbour walls would need to go in to a landing point, and they couldn’t go in to the cliffs, because they are protected, and are prone to cliff falls. In the drawing the wall stops in the sand, so the tide would go round behind it! They talk about enhancing the fishing beach by putting a wall up, but we’ve got a wall already.

And as to the cliffs – the harbour wall would have to go in front of the cliffs, starting with the Yacht Club to the east, and ending beyond the fishing Stade. The wall would have to be at least fifty yards from the cliff to keep out of the way of cliff falls.

The idea of drilling through the cliffs has been bandied about, just to make a road. Are they completely mad? 

CM: The Harbour Project states that “The Marina would provide mooring, storage for utilities, accompanying chandlery and support services”. What do you think of that?

Fishing equipment Photo Paul Stanley

Fishing equipment Photo Paul Stanley

PS: The picture they give is rubbish; you need space and sheds to store equipment. Most boats have two sheds, one for netting and such like, and one for tools. That’s why there are so many sheds, they are fully used, and more equipment is strung along the shore next to each boat. One boat’s worth of this would take up a whole pontoon. As I’ve said, fishermen need four types of nets, we use different sizes according to the season and the sort of fish we’re after. Each boat has ten bins with the different trawls. And then there are the tractors to pull the bags up and down if they want to change the nets. There’s no problem with the tractors now.

The Marina wouldn’t want the blood and guts and mess. In Brighton they are not allowed to sell fish from the Marina. The scheme does nothing for us, it just pinches our land. They’d take the road where we are. The whole idea is hopeless.

If they are serious they should do a feasibility study at Glyne Gap. Boats could use it in rough weather – it’s needed there, and there’s a footing where the bathing pool was. All you’d need are two walls going out. And there’s St Leonards station nearby.

CM: It was suggested that the fishermen would be able to live in the new ‘affordable housing’ – would you like that?

PS: I don’t think so, no, I wouldn’t want to, I’m by the sea all day and sometimes at night. Anyway, fishermen live where they like to.

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Posted 12:29 Tuesday, Dec 5, 2017 In: Home Ground


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  1. Andy Holt

    How little has changed in the battle between the Hastings Borough/Town council and the fishing community in the last 58 years! I lived in Hastings from age 11 to 16 between 1959 and 1964 and even back then the local authority appeared to be both ashamed and determined to be rid of the fishermen of Hastings. There can be little doubt that if this project goes ahead the Marina and boat owners will do all in their power to push the fleet from the beach and foreshore and that’ll be it. Of course I realise everything changes but too often for the worse in poor old Hastings. The Council over the decades has demonstrated time and again their willingness to exhibit a proficiency for corporate vandalism, the destruction of the Memorial and the Cricket ground are but two of the most egregious examples. Hastings will never be Eastbourne or Brighton, thank God. As a teenager I loved to walk among the fishing boats, spend time in Fairlight and Ecclesbourne Glen and drink underage at the Lord Nelson and the Anchor. Oh, happy, formative days.

    Comment by Andy Holt — Friday, Dec 8, 2017 @ 18:34

  2. Ms.Doubtfire

    This council has continually abused their power to the detriment of the local populace for decades now….Bogbrush is correct in saying these ‘elected’ councillors think that because they won a vote they have carte blanche to destroy everything they are supposed (and promised) to protect.
    As for Kevin Boorman – no doubt he is out of his depth to comment on this proposal – he will need a script before he utters a word on it.

    Comment by Ms.Doubtfire — Friday, Dec 8, 2017 @ 09:19

  3. John Baker

    The latest episode of your harbour development expose the best yet, I thought: the councillor given enough rope to hang himself (Deselect on the Haringey model?); the redoubtable Paul first giving an outstandingly clear exposition of local fishing techniques, leaving me much better informed than I’d been after two guided tours of the Stade & a certain amount of reading, then trashing the plan in magisterial fashion. What’s the equivalent of the Pulitzer?

    Comment by John Baker — Friday, Dec 8, 2017 @ 06:43

  4. DAR

    I second Bogbrush’s comments. I’m afraid crazy schemes like this are being considered because of the “housing crisis” (actually a “population crisis” with 5 million extra people since 2006 – source ONS) which has led to central government dumping unrealistic housing targets on already full-up places like Hastings.

    I hope the “powers that be” will listen to local experts like Paul Stanley – and reject this “madness”.

    Comment by DAR — Thursday, Dec 7, 2017 @ 13:35

  5. Richard Paine

    I think you are quite right in your assumption Bogbrush. But whose to say this project wasn’t the idea of HBC, finding sponsors are now hiding behind the private sector.

    Comment by Richard Paine — Thursday, Dec 7, 2017 @ 12:50

  6. Bogbrush

    Kevin Boorman, Marketing and Major Projects Jobsworth for Hastings Borough Council, hides behind the commercial secrecy screen as if they didn’t set it all up in the first place. And when will it be appropriate to ‘brief’ the local people, whose lives and livelihoods will be ruined, by this harebrained, back of envelope project? “Sorry, no, I can’t, it’s not a council proposal, but a private sector one.” Well – the local people have seen the scheme and unanimously they detest it and can give numerous good reasons why it will be a disaster for everyone except a few tycoons whose yachts will float in the marina. Or will they? Who would want to put a multi-million pound yacht under a crumbling sandstone cliff on a storm swept shore behind an inadequate concrete jetty. Yacht owners want exclusivity and protection from the great unwashed, who will have to be excluded. Representative democracy can be abused by the representatives, and this project is developing into a textbook case of the abuse of power by local Councillors, who think that because they won a vote they have carte blanche to destroy everything they are supposed to protect.

    Comment by Bogbrush — Tuesday, Dec 5, 2017 @ 15:07

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