Hastings Herring Fair aims to make the general public more familiar with an underrated fish that has been largely off the menu for some time

Hastings Fishermen - keen to get herring back on our plates
Hastings Fishermen - keen to get herring back on our plates

NOW is the peak time for herring fishing in Hastings, however in recent years there has been little market locally for the fish.

All this could be set to change however, as herring is being thrust into the limelight.

Hastings Herring Fair takes place next month at The Stade, and is to include a wealth of information, demonstrations, and most importantly, plenty of opportunities for tasting.

The event is to run from November 23 to 25, and as well as providing entertainment, the aim is to promote herring and the Hastings fishing fleet to the general public and professional chefs alike.

The largest beach-launched fishing fleet in Europe, the Hastings fleet has Marine Stewardship Council accreditation for the methods it uses to catch herring, along with mackerel and Dover sole.

Chairman of Hastings Fishermen’s Protection Society Paul Joy said: “This event will be a good learning curve for people who want to try herring.

“It’s just putting something back on the menu that has been there all along.

“We have got a good local fish on our doorstep.

“The herring that used to make a large difference to our industry, no-one wants to buy anymore.

“Herring is held in very high esteem in countries like Norway and Denmark, but here it is kind of looked upon with some disdain.”

Because herring migrate through during the autumn months, October and November are the peak times to catch the fish off the Hastings coast.

Herring is an oily fish, rich in protein and vitamins , but quite boney, so it is necessary to know how to fillet it correctly, and this lack of knowledge and an ignorance of the various ways of cooking the fish may explain the lack of a local market for it.

Paul said: “There are a lot of ways of preparing herring, there are many methods, sweet and sour, all different flavours.

“It is a very high nutritional value fish , it is a very good, cheap product.

“What we are trying to do is show how you cook and how you clean them.”

Events next month will kick off on the evening of Friday, November 25 with a pre-fair ‘Silver Darlings Banquet’.

Chef Paul Webbe’s specially created six course menu will be held at Webbe’s at the Jerwood Café with guest of honour, the High Sheriff of Sussex.

The opening of the fair on Saturday will be heralded by the raising of the herring flags, accompanied by shanty singing.

As night falls, Hastings Bonfire Boys will tour the Old Town with their barrows, ‘a Catterning and Clemmening’ in a revival of an ancient Sussex tradition.

St Clements’ Day falls on Friday 23, while St Catherine’s Day falls on Sunday 25.

Over time the two festivals became intertwined and were celebrated across Sussex by ‘going a Catterning and Clemmening’.

Expect dancing, Catherine Wheels, cattern cakes and songs.

At midday on Sunday the blessing of the nets ceremony will take place.

Stalls over the two days will showcase herring cookery, pickling and smoking skills.

Talks, films and exhibitions in the Stade Hall and Fishermen’s Museum will tell the history of the herring fishery.

Billingsgate Fish Cookery School, Greenpeace and the Marine Stewardship Council will be in attendance and, of course, no Hastings event would be complete without fine musical entertainment from local musicians and shanty singers.

And it’s not just fun for the adults. Local schools will be participating in flag making workshops in the lead up to the fair.

During the weekend itself, children can take part in workshops to make their own Silver Darling (a nickname for herring) streamers and the Fishermen’s Museum is distributing Silver Darling family activity packs.