fisherman-of-hastings-021The seaside town of Hastings, in Sussex, is home to the biggest shore fishing fleet in Europe.
There used to be more than 40 boats, but now there are about 20.
Hastings is a fishing town, not a port. The boats are hauled up onto the beach after use.
Rye is the nearest port, and the boats are registered there. They have RX in front of their number, R for Rye and X for Sussex.
The men who push the boats into the sea, then hook them up and pull them out again, using small, rusty tractors, are known as a Boyshore, even though a lot of them are in their 70s! Most of them are retired fishermen.
It’s a very vital job as the Hastings sea can get quite rough, with lots of surf.
A fishing boat sank yesterday. Another boat bumped into it.
The Boyshore gets paid with fish, not money! They get a percentage of the day’s catch, plus a box of mixed fish that the restaurants won’t want to buy.
At the top of the beach, next to the path, is a motley village of huts, decorated with fish designs and surrounded by ‘gardens’ of flotsam and other weird collections of objects; seats, tables, sea-sculptured wood, bits of metal, nets, buoys, old teddies, etc. These are the fishermen’s ‘homes from home.’ They rest, nap, eat and socialise, in and outside them.
fisherman-of-hastings-061Obviously ‘Elf ‘N Safety keeps well clear and doesn’t interfere at all!
Facing the path, some of the huts open up at the front as small shops. Every day after 9am, the Boyshores are allowed to sell their fishy salaries to the public. They can only sell fish that has been caught by the local fishermen and landed in Hastings.
On the other side of the path, beside the road, are about 50 tall, skinny wooden huts. They’re known as Net Huts. They were built around 1834 to store the nets and stop them rotting. The sea originally came right up to them, and sometimes underneath them. But now the shingle beach, known as the Stade, has built up and left them high and dry.
A lot of them are shops, selling fresh fish, which is why the Shoreboys can’t start selling theirs until after 9am. And they can sell any kind of fish from anywhere in the Net Huts.
I bought three skates and a huss for £1.50 lb from Mick the Boyshore. What a bargain! Skate can be as much as £7 lb.
While he cleaned the skate, he told me that fishing was unpredictable and never constant. Some weeks were good, then on other weeks there wasn’t much fish around.
fisherman-of-hastings-032I asked him about the herrings, as Hastings has a herring festival. But he said that it’s unusual for anyone under 30 to buy herrings. It’s just not in fashion any more.
The skipper is responsible for any losses, breakages, etc and the crews get a share of the week’s earnings.
Mick re-weighed the skate and the huss, and then reduced the price for me.
The next small shop was run by Richard Read. He was a fisherman, so was his father and his grandfather. He also spent 32 years on the lifeboat, and they won a silver medal in 1973 for rescuing three people from a fishing boat in a Force 11 gale.
It makes you think, doesn’t it?
I bought a load of soles for £1 lb and some small lemon soles for £1.20 lb.
They were £4.95 elsewhere.
After he’d weighed them, Richard kept throwing on several extra fish, which he didn’t charge me for.
Along I walked to John and Dave. They had lots of crabs, which I love. They’re usually about £6-7 each, but John’s were £2.50.
He weighed some for me, and when he wasn’t looking, Dave threw a couple more in the bag, winking at me. Then John threw in a handful of crabs’ claws.
I also bought a huge huss and one of the biggest soles that I’ve ever seen!
fisherman-of-hastings-007Staggering back to the beach to take some photos, I met another John, who I’d already spoken to, sitting drinking tea with several other fisherman. He told the others that I was a writer.
One of them, Roland, said that he’d let me look on his boat.
He’s really proud of it as he did it up by himself.
Being a gentleman, he held the ladder for me and looked away as I scrambled up onto the boat, clutching my skirt.
The boat looked much bigger when I was on board. The deck’s flat where the fish are stored in buckets and bins, and the wheelhouse is roomy and cosy.
Roland lifted a trapdoor and showed me the engine. It was absolutely spotless and it looked newly painted. It has to be. The crew’s livelihood, and their lives, depend on it!
I climbed down the ladder while Roland held it and politely gazed out to sea. Then I stood back while a tractor pushed the boat down the shingle and into the sea.
They sailed off and round the coast to cast their nets for later that night, followed by a flock of seagulls, and I staggered back to my car with three extremely heavy bags of fish.
Lovely. I’m looking forward to eating it. Fish is low in calories, high in vitamins, and filling too. Just in time for my diet!
But while I’m eating it, I’ll think about where it came from, and what our fishermen have to go through to catch it for us.

fisherman-of-hastings-005I think the best way to cook fish is simply.
Fish has a delicate flavour, and it can be spoilt by adding strong sauces.
Wrapping it in tinfoil seals in the flavour.
Add a dash of olive oil and lemon slices or Balsamic vinegar, and some parsley. Then seal it tight and bake in the oven for under half an hour.
Test it by digging a knife in it. It shouldn’t be too pink or raw inside.
Or you can gently fry it in a pan.
Here’s an old wartime recipe for Huss.
Just simmer it slowly, barely covered by milk for about 15 minutes.
The fish will be white right through when poked with a knife.
You can use the milk afterwards to make a White Sauce.
Serve with mashed potatoes and green beans.

Useful Information:
Hastings Borough Council and 1066 Country Marketing
Aquila House, Breeds Place, Hastings, East Sussex,TN34 3UY
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