Hastings & St. Leonards on-line community newspaper
Paul and Doug Joy

Paul (right) and Doug – photo by Chandra Masoliver

Paul Joy, Chairman of the Hastings Fishermen’s Protection Society, reports on the current state of the Hastings fishing industry

Paul Joy tells HOT’s Chandra Masoliver about the new government fishing laws, and how he fights for the fishermen’s rights, many of which are being eroded.

Boats from Hastings fishing fleet

Boats from Hastings fishing fleet – photo by Chandra Masoliver

CM: I think it’s important that we understand the problems that the Hastings, and the whole British fishing industry are facing today. Would you list them, and then go through them?

PJ: There’s been the tradition of fishing in Hastings for more than a thousand years, before the Norman Conquest; my ancestors go back that far. Now, our fishing industry is threatened with more and more problems.

  • New legislation
  • New: medical legislation under the Maritime Coastguard Agency (MCA)
  • New: Individual Vessel Monitoring (IVMS).
  • New: Catch Ap, added to Automatic Identification System (AIS)
  • Increase in fishing activity in the channel
  • Allocation quota
  • Seals

CM: Let’s look at each one in all its complexity, starting with legislation.

PJ: In the past few years law after new law has been heaped upon us.
Every European country is protected by a 12 mile limit. But in the UK we now effectively only have a 6 mile limit because other countries are licensed to fish into our waters for 6 miles.

We were promised exclusive rights to a 12 mile limit, but the government backed down because of pressure from the French when we came out of Europe after Brexit. France said they would blockade ALL exports unless we gave way on our 12 mile limit, and the government gave way.

CM: I have heard from Paul Stanley and Lucy Phillips* (see article reference below) that there are now absurdly detrimental medical laws for those fishing in small boats; what does that mean for the Hastings fishing industry?

PJ: This is a law under the Maritime Coastguard Agency (MCA) that every fisherman has to have a full medical certificate, even assessing their Body Mass Index (BMI), whether they have diabetes, if they are colour blind etc. This was never required before. Below is the photo of an article Jerry Percy, director of the New Under Ten Fishermen’s Association (NUTFA) wrote in “The Fishing News” 14.12.2023.

Photo of Article by Jerry Percy in Fishing News

Photo of Article by Jerry Percy in Fishing News

CM: What about the vessels? What is the Individual Vessel Monitoring System (IVMS)?

PJ: The IVMS is a tracking device, introduced by the Marine Management Organisation (MMO); a vessel has to have it on board so that the government can track each vessel 24/7 to monitor where it is. Fishermen can receive a grant to get it, but you have to pay for ‘air time’, that is rental, and the amount may keep going up.

Originally there were different regulations according to boat size – 6, 10, 12, or 15 metres long. I don’t know why now even a small boat is obliged by law to have the same criteria as a much larger 15 metre boat, it’s just another package of costs.

CM: Then there is the Automatic Identification System (AIS) and the new Catch Ap. What are these two for?

Automatic Identification System (AIS) screen

Automatic Identification System (AIS) screen

PJ: The AIS is a vessel monitoring system for computers to track and watch all activity in the Channel. It provides identification and positioning to all other vessels, and to shore stations. It is a computer program that you can even download on your phone.

The Catch Ap has just been introduced, you download it on your phone, it is mandatory, and it’s mandatory to record your catch before you land. It means you must guess the weight of your catch within a narrow margin of error. If your catch assessment doesn’t come out the same as your landings weight you will be prosecuted.

This is a big problem for small inshore boats that sometimes spend a long time trying to identify the exact weight of all fish species, and then transmit it on a mobile phone with wet hands.

You can see from the photo below how our waters beyond our six mile limit are crowded with very large boats. They can be 140 metres long and nearly 19 metres wide. They are foreign boats with a licence to fish in our waters. They get what’s called a Flag of Convenience, this is a trick foreign vessels use to fish in our waters. They have an Englishman as skipper to get it for them, so they can obtain a British quota, but the catch itself is landed directly in Europe. They only have to land in England occasionally – or rather they should have to. You can see a vessel’s size from the photo. They can go to sea in all weathers. The smaller ones go for 5 or 6 days, the bigger ones just keep going until they are full and have to unload. Large ones actually process and freeze their catch on board.

The Aisle-a super large fishing boat live on screen.

‘The Aisle’.A super large fishing boat live on screen.

CM: What method of fishing do these large boats use?

PJ: They used to use Pulse Beam fishing, that’s an electrical system where fish are made to jump off the sea bed and are then caught in nets. After a long fight this has been made illegal. The Dutch were never allowed to use it in their own waters, but were allowed to in British waters. Small fish became deformed through it.

Nets System

Nets System

Now they use Seining. This is a very effective way of fishing. A line is shot that runs along the seabed, frightening all the fish, drawing them into the net. Each time they shoot they clear an area the size of 4 to 6 football pitches. This is done very quickly, clearing all the ground ahead of fish. Then they repeat it, so as to get loads of fish in one day. They take everything, and we have no control over it. So the fish can’t migrate into our waters. For example, they can get 350 kilos of squid in one landing.

These boats are mainly Dutch, also Belgian, and now the French use them too, they can’t build them fast enough. 70% of France’s fish comes from fishing into our British waters.

The British government have licensed over 1.700 foreign vessels inside our 12 mile limit. We can’t fish in their 12 mile waters, but they can fish in ours. Every other country has a 12 mile limit, and we have given ours away.

Seining is detrimental. It may catch fish plentifully in the short term, but long term it destroys the balance of the food chain of fish. And it destroys the ecology. As an example, the chain could start with plankton, eaten by sprats and herrings, they in turn get eaten by cod and whiting.

We have been banned from drifting for bass in the Channel. To catch bass you drift nets along the surface; bass are pallegic and swim near the surface, chasing sprats and other shoal fish like mackerel and herrings. We are told the foreign vessels don’t catch bass, but everything goes into those nets, and what they catch receives non-existent checks. Small fishing can’t compete.

It took a ten year battle to stop pulse fishing: we had to prove that it was detrimental to juvenile stock. So how long will this new method go on for? It will take years to ban it, if they ever do.

CM: So what effect does this have on British fishing?

PJ: it means fish don’t have the chance to migrate into our six mile waters. And there’s also the problem of survival rates of the spawning eggs, the biomass, that is the eggs that are released into the water column. They are reliant on the correct water temperature at the time of spawning, and there is the problem of global warming.

CM: And how does this affect quotas that the government allocates?

PJ: Quotas are set through science, ‘experts’ get together and assess perceived survival rates of juveniles, and then predict the amount of the stock you can fish.

It is not done fairly. The method of allocation is draconian. It discriminates against small boats. 76% of vessels are under 10 metres, but they only have 4% of the quota.

Five years ago we had to discard cod because we, the small boats, weren’t given enough of the quota. We were allowed 40 kilos a month per boat, that’s 1.4 kilos a day, so half a fish per boat, based on cod average size. That’s an example of how ludicrous the system is.

As I have said, in Hastings we have fished sustainably for over a thousand years. We diversify in our catches, and that has kept our fleet going. Now however there is a danger that this will be threatened by yet more new concepts, this time relating to marine planning coming under regional management. As Chair of the HFPS I am involved in consultation

They are suggesting that quotas should be managed by zones. The zones would be managed by Marine Planning, but the quotas could be under Fishery Management Plan (FMP). So if it is broken up into small zones how are quotas managed? If they were managed on the basis of historic quota allocations, how does this interpret into fishery regions? For some fish we would be in zone VII D, which runs from Hythe Bay to the Isle of Wight. For others we would be in zones VII D and E, which stretches all the way to Cornwall.

For example, sole would be in zone VII D. Sole are endemic to the area, so quota is based on historic landings. Plaice would come under both zones VII D AND VII E; unlike sole, plaice are migratory, so that would need to be taken into consideration. Cod is also migratory, but it would be in VII E.

It gets absurd: if we were trying to catch plaice or sole, and we got a bi-catch, we would have to discard the cod. Fish like cod and whiting have a swim bladder which erupts when you land it, so they can’t swim down, they are just left to float on the surface and die.

Because of global warming other fish have migrated into our waters now, like bluefin tuna, but we wouldn’t be allowed to catch them because they were a world endangered species. Actually, there is a pilot project for ten boats in the west country to catch bluefin tuna.

Last week there was a discussion with the Marine Management Organisation (MMO) on cuttlefish, about possibly changing the legislation to introduce landing size. But if you measure them and then have to discard them they die. Cuttlefish breed and die within two years, and our pot netting creates a habitat to breed on, and that keeps the stock going. So since the stock’s growing healthily, why legislate against this?

CM: in the article with Paul Stanley and Lucy Phillips* they talk about seals decimating their catch. In a comment, I got some stick from Richard Price, about some of their facts being “stupid and untrue”. I did doubt this, but could you tell me the facts about seals and fishing?

Catch mauled by seals. Photo_ Paul Stanley

Catch mauled by seals. Photo_ Paul Stanley

PJ: Seals have grown in abundance since Mallydams released them from their rescue centre at Fairlight. It was only legal to release them into an area that already has a colony. In the ’70s and ’80s it was a talking point if you saw a seal; now there are around 70 of them at Fairlight We have a video proving this amount. They all have to eat, but the pressure on the fish stock is tremendous. They are very clever, they follow the boats going out.

In the early days of this century injured seals came to Mallydams from Wales, so they were nursed back to health in Hastings, and should then have been returned to their colony in Wales. Mallydams was under a DEFRA licence to do that. But they have now created a colony locally where they didn’t exist before.

Catch mauled by seals. Photo_ Paul Stanley

Catch mauled by seals. Photo_ Paul Stanley

I love to see a seal, they are lovely creatures, but when you haul your nets and every fish has been destroyed by the seal taking one bite out of each fish (the gut area), and see that you have worked for nothing, and you watch the seals looking at you in your boat, you lose the cute and cuddly perspective.

There is also a problem for the seals themselves, that Mallydams release them with plastic tags which could catch up in the net and drown the seal.

CM: Is it still possible to earn a living fishing here in Hastings?

PJ: It is more and more difficult to earn a living. Even if fish stock comes back the new legislation takes its toll. Two licences are already required for all commercial vessels, one for white fish, and a more expensive one to include shellfish. A fisherman can buy the licence and also it can be passed on to another fisherman.

Now another organisation, the Inshore Fishermen’s Conservation Society (IFCA) decided to charge for shellfish within the jurisdiction of the waters that they control within 6 miles, so we are inundated by new licences and costs.

We have a set amount of pots or traps that we can use. IFCA charge us a fee for the number of pots and traps of each type. We also have to purchase plastic tags to identify that the pot has been paid for.

It’s yet another cost, although each licence may not be very expensive it’s cumulative, collectively all the charges have a detrimental effect on commercial fishing.

CM: in the Hastings and St Leonards Observer Jan.19th Steve Peak wrote about the sad demise of the Hastings fishing fleet. What’s your opinion?

RX53 pictured in 1984

RX53 pictured in 1984

PJ: He was mainly talking about the loss of the old wooden boats. That’s true, but there is a natural progression to modern materials which are more cost effective and durable.

I’d say there is the risk of demise, but we’re still here, fishing, and awaiting better times.

CM: And our Council what is their attitude to all this?

RX53 coming ashore in a gale - 1990's

RX53 coming ashore in a gale – 1990’s

PJ: Basically the Council are supportive of our fishing industry. The Fishermen’s Protection Society have the rights to the foreshore on the blue Stade. The FPS hold the rights, not the fishermen, and we register the vessels at the Town Hall on an annual basis. At this moment there are about 30 registered. It is the government led legislation that is the problem.

CM: I wonder what the government is up to? I know companies like Monsanto are hell bent on eliminating small farmers abroad. Why is our government not protecting our age old small boat fishing?

PJ: The government is getting rid of us through legislation. When I asked the reason why they want to do this they did not answer. There is a criteria they have set, that all quota must be based on socio-economic and environmental criteria.

So why are they looking after the big boats and not the environmentally friendly and sustainable under 10 metre fleet? That is the question we have asked, but we can’t get an answer.

There is the National Federation of Fishermen’s Organisation (NFFO), they are meant to represent the industry fairly and justly, and that should means all fishing boats. But the small boats fishermen are not well protected, therefore we have created the New Under Ten Association (NUTA).

Paul Joy with his dog Serefe (Cheers! In Turkish)

Paul Joy with his dog Serefe (Cheers! In Turkish) – photo by Chandra Masoliver


CM: Thank you very much Paul for sharing all this knowledge so patiently with me.

CM: Finally, a personal P.S: In two articles in the Hastings Observer January 19th and 26th Andy Hamsley wrote about the move to save the Dorothy Melinda RX53 up at Hastings railway station. She’s an iconic symbol of our ancient fishing industry, the first thing you see when you arrive by train.

An appeal has been launched to save her, please donate so she can be refurbished and reinstated there for years to come.

Donate to:

*Paul Stanley skipper,and Lucy Phillips crew, of the fishing boat RX11, Hastings Online Times May 10 2023


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Posted 16:56 Saturday, Feb 10, 2024 In: Fishing


Please read our comment guidelines before posting on HOT

  1. John Cole

    Thank You, Chandra, for your very thorough and timely article on the state of commercial fishing here in Hastings, and throughout the UK. A reminder that we must all put pressure on our local as well as national politicians to protect our precious fishing fleet!
    Chandra, if you ever need photos to go with another article on Hastings fishing, please let me know, and happy to help.
    Best, John Cole E:

    Comment by John Cole — Monday, Feb 12, 2024 @ 13:07

  2. Barbara (Bea) Jean Rogers

    Please can we be realistic about the fishing boat in front of the station? It is beyond repair and needs to be removed because it has become an accident waiting to happen – kids are climbing on it and vandalising it, and the rotten timbers could easily give way and cause serious injury. It can’t realistically be moved in one piece. The Friends of Hastings Station are patiently waiting for it to be removed so that we can plant the roundabout with trees and shrubs – much safer and good for all of us. The loss of the boat is sad but I’m afraid it is inevitable.

    Comment by Barbara (Bea) Jean Rogers — Monday, Feb 12, 2024 @ 11:01

  3. Despairing RV

    At last the truth about sustainable traditional fishing. I was taken in by the lying politicians who promised defence of our fisheries with Brexit, but (like the liar Ted Heath when we joined) ùhanded over fishing rights. One can only despair and await the destruction of all life in the ocean apart from a few star fish.

    Comment by Despairing RV — Sunday, Feb 11, 2024 @ 15:17

  4. Michael Madden

    I didn’t know any of this, so thanks for doing this very thorough interview Chandra. It’s changed my mind about a lot of things and made me realise that I’ve heard incorrect information in the past. It’s very interesting to read what Paul Joy says. To me it seems like a story of total betrayal by the government, who “got Brexit done” based, partly at least, on saying that the fishing fleet would get a better deal, with higher quotas. It’s also typical of how this government, with no democratic mandate at all, and their chosen ‘experts’, do not listen to the very people who know best – the fishermen. I’d like to ask two questions of Paul please. Hi Paul: 1. I ‘ve heard that many fishermen voted for Brexit. If you did, do you now regret it and how do other Hastings fishermen feel about that issue? 2. Do you think anything can realistically be done about the unfair and usustainable ways that large boats catch fish and steal the catch of small boats. I mean, for instance, would the NUTA consider teaming up with Greenpeace or with the Good Law Project? It might at least be worth getting a legal opinion from the GLP, even if they feel that they cannot help directly. I think their contact details are readily available online.

    Comment by Michael Madden — Sunday, Feb 11, 2024 @ 11:59

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