Good news for Hastings fishermen

Fishing boats, Hastings Old Town
Fishing boats, Hastings Old Town

FISHERMEN will no longer be forced to throw dead fish back into the sea after the European Union moved to ban discards.

More than 4,000 readers backed the Observer’s Fairer Deal for Fishermen campaign which saw a delegation from 1066 Country dumping thousands of cut out fish coupons on the steps of Number 10.

And it has also received support from TV chef Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall who came to Hastings to see first hand the plight of local fishermen.

Under existing rules, crews have to hurl back any fish they catch over their quota – despite the majority of those caught being already dead.

But this week the European Union (EU) announced plans to scrap that practice, having come under mounting pressure to prevent further needless wastage.

However, despite being buoyed by the fact the powers-that-be seem to be finally listening, fishermen here in Hastings believe the move is only part of the solution.

Paul Joy, spokesman for the Hastings Fishermen Protection Society, told the Observer: “The support we have had from local people and the paper has been brilliant and very much appreciated.

“This is one step on the road to a solution, but it does not solve everything.

“We want to see an end to the abomination of discarded fish but we also need more relocation of the quota.”

Currently the under 10 metre class of boats, like those here in Hastings, receives just three per cent of the overall catch for the UK industry, despite boasting the majority of boats.

A three per cent relocation is being discussed, but Mr Joy said this would make little or no difference to the livelihoods of those fishing in 1066 Country.

“That figure seems to have been plucked out of thing air,” he said. “All that would mean is that we would be able to catch three quarters of a fish each day rather than half a fish.”

He also said he did not see how a blanket ban on discards - however welcome - could be policed.

The fleet in Hastings already uses eco-friendly nets which allow younger fish to remain uncaught until they have had a chance to breed and thus restock the waters.

But if fishermen are forced to land every fish they catch, it could see quotas used up even more quickly, or unprofitable species of fish hauled ashore. He called for the EU to introduce a minimum hole size for nets and an end to larger producer organisations being allowed to rent out any unused quota - a practice which he says is strangling the life out of smaller boats.

The Observer’s editor-in-chief Keith Ridley welcomed the news. He said: “It is great to see that public pressure is paying off.

“The people of this town sent a defiant message to the Government and the EU that we expect better for our fishermen.

“This move shows people are starting to listen. Now we must continue to support out fishermen until they get an overall result they are happy with.”