The sad demise of the Hastings fishing fleet

Here local historian, and author of the book Fishermen of Hastings, Steve Peak looks at how our fishing fleet has declined in recent decades.

He writes: ​Hastings Council’s plan to scrap the fishing boat Dorothy Melinda RX 53, which has been standing outside the railway station for many years, highlights the fact that there is now only one wooden decked fishing boat working off Hastings beach.

This last survivor of many centuries of local history is the 29 feet long Felicity RX 58, owned by the Edmunds family. She was built in 1980 as the Our Pam and Peter for Denis Barton.

On the beach there is one other possibly seaworthy decked boat, formerly called the Flying Fish RX 73. But she is now unmarked and has not been on the water for many years. On her stade is an open (ie, undecked) wooden boat, Bloodaxe RX 37, which has also been laid up for a long time.

On the beach are the remains of some that have been abandoned. Most prominent is the big Our Lady RX 16, built 1957 as RX 59, whose deck is collapsing, with the wheelhouse leaning to one side. All the other fishing boats are made of either metal or fibre-glass.

The first metal Hastings fishing boat was the Mark Anthony RX 4, built in the late 1980s for the landlord of the Lord Nelson pub Tony Shipley, who named it after his son. In the 1994 photo Mark is carrying out some work on the stern of the boat. Many of the smaller fibre-glass boats look as though they have been made of overlapping wooden planks, like many Hastings boats used to be.This is just to give the boat some stability in rough seas.

There are now only about ten Hastings fishing boats that go to sea, some only very occasionally. In the early 1980s, there were 44 boats working from Hastings beach, with a waiting list for spaces. My 1985 book Fishermen of Hastings, on sale in the Fishermen’s Museum, describes in detail the fishing industry as it was then. I revealed that fishermen had an old legal right to the free use of the beach, and this is the main reason there are still so many boats on the beach today, working or not – the owners do not have to pay for their boat to be there.

The near-collapse of the Hastings fishing industry since the 1980s has several causes, including smaller fish stocks, huge numbers of spider crabs and poor quotas. The Fishermen’s Museum has preserved three old decked boats: the Enterprise RX 278 inside the Museum, with the Edward and Mary RX 74 and the Valiant RX 90 outside.

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