Hastings Fishing Fleet is a piece of living history. It dates back to the 11th century, and many of the fishermen still working the local waters can trace their family trees back to its inception. Notably Europe’s largest beach-launched fleet, it’s the strongest fishing hub in the South East, and a popular tourist attraction.
“I cannot say enough how grateful I am for that introduction,” he says. “There’s no way we would’ve been awarded that money without Emily’s help, and without it, we couldn’t have gone to sea. Our industry is one hurdle after another – so I’ll definitely be looking at funding again.”OwnerLeeside Fishing
Yet cultural significance does not guarantee commercial success. This once vital trade has found itself beset by mounting political, financial and social pressures, making business far from straightforward.
“From new safety legislation to no-discard rules, it’s definitely challenging,” says Yasmin Ornsby, the representative of Hastings Fisherman’s Protection Society. “We’d hoped for bigger fishing areas and quotas from Brexit, but no – these small boats account for 76% of the UK’s fishing vessels, yet can claim less than 2% of the catch.”
There’s also an ageing workforce, costly certification processes and the impact of giant commercial trawlers.
But hope remains. The fleet retains a strong political voice, thanks to the efforts of the society’s chairman, Paul Joy, who has dedicated much of his life to working with local councillors and keeping the trade visible in the media.
Thanks to a ‘Deed of Compromise’ signed in 1947, the fleet can lay claim to the land it occupies in perpetuity, and with growing demand for sustainable working practices, it’s impossible to overlook the clean, ‘green’ simplicity of traditional day boat fishing.
And financial lifelines are available. As the only town to achieve FLAG (Fisheries Local Action Group) status, Hastings continues to enjoy European funding, as well as benefiting from Defra’s Coastal Change Pathfinder Programme. One important funding pot is FASS (the Government’s Fisheries and Seafood Scheme), which aims to safeguard England’s seafood sector, with a focus on sustainability.
Given the context, obtaining funding can mean the difference between life and death for these micro-businesses.
Last year, the owner and skipper of Leeside Fishing was suffering a dangerous failure to launch, thanks to his outdated and temperamental bulldozers. As the owner of a catamaran, his need was specific – an extra-wide blade that could safely push his beloved RX111 to the water’s edge.
“When you’re moving a £130,000 investment down a beach, you have to be careful,” he laughs. “I knew people had got funding for bulldozers before, and that it came through periodically. When it came to my attention, the time left to claim was extremely short.”
A friend’s recommendation pointed him to Locate East Sussex, a non-profit service that supports SMEs like his, and Business Manager Emily Wright picked up the case.
“The fishing sector was new to me, but I saw that FASS funding offers lots of options for the industry, from capital expenditure to innovation and upgrades,” she says.
Emily was able to offer Leeside’s owner 12 invaluable hours of free business support.
“I can change engines and swap gearboxes standing on my head, but the application process was a minefield of online forms. “Thankfully – and with Yasmin’s help – Emily took care of everything."
Owner, Leeside Fishing
“Claiming is a very complicated process,” notes Paul. “Everything’s done online now, and if you’re not IT literate, it’s almost impossible.”
Leeside’s claim, for ‘improvements to shore-bound facilities’, covered 80% of the cost of a new bulldozer – and also brought Locate’s services to the attention of another fisherman in need.
Time had taken its toll on RX150, a 22-year-old boat belonging to Darren Coglan, the director of Roy’s Boys Hastings. With a dilapidated wheelhouse (cabin) making an MOT unobtainable, the boat – Darren’s livelihood – was grounded. “I hadn’t earned a penny from fishing for months,” he says.
Emily helped guide this FASS application process, too. “The boat needed a new fabricated wheelhouse and deck strengthening to be secure and safe,” she says, and her assistance ensured the best chances of funding being granted.
The money was successfully claimed, saving RX150 from going to wreck.
As he prepares to set out to sea for the first time in months, Darren is extremely grateful.
“Emily was ever so helpful, There’ll be another 20-odd years of life in RX150 now.”
Darren Coglan, Director, Roys Boys
Hastings’ fishermen face evolving administrative challenges, coupled with a job that remains exhausting, no matter the centuries of experience they’ve inherited – and sadly, the funds set aside to help these hard-working seafarers often remain out of reach, due to the complexity of the application processes.
“Filling in forms is not a fisherman’s forte,” laments Yasmin.
Yet thanks to intervention from the likes of Locate East Sussex, meaningful change can be achieved.
They’re a great community, and they’ve been overwhelmed to get this free support,” says Emily.
"We’re here to help, but we also want to give people an opportunity to better understand their business. So many people work in their business, and not on it – but when your industry’s forever changing, recognising the need to take action can come too late.”
After his experience, Leeside’s owner wrote to Hastings Borough Council in praise of Emily’s work, explaining that the town’s small businesses need this kind of support more than ever.
“I cannot say enough how grateful I am for that introduction,” he says. “There’s no way we would’ve been awarded that money without Emily’s help, and without it, we couldn’t have gone to sea. Our industry is one hurdle after another – so I’ll definitely be looking at funding again.”
As they deploy the pots and nets within their allocated waters, these Hastings fishermen are a step closer to a successful, sustainable future, thanks to Locate East Sussex.
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