Election 2015

Election 2015: Hastings fishermen seek 'fair share'

Hastings seafront

In the tightly contested seat of Hastings and Rye, the topic of fishing quotas has become a key election issue. Their allocation is weighted heavily in favour of large corporations, and the fishermen with smaller boats say that they are simply not allowed to catch enough to survive.

Mark Woodley and his crew have toiled for seven hours in the rough waters of the English Channel. Starting work well before dawn, their faces, hands and yellow oilskins are now smeared with black.

"We’ve been cuttlefishing," Mr Woodley says, as he helps to haul the boat up the beach.

"They squirt ink at the face. When they’re alive - as soon as they see someone’s eyes, they squirt at you."

Red crates brimming with cuttlefish are dropped from the deck down on to the shingle and stacked in the back of a van. It’s a good catch, but not as lucrative as it could have been.

"We just chucked six boxes of cod away today," says Mr Woodley. "That's around a couple of hundred quid we chucked away today, and probably around a thousand pounds so far this month. It’s just ridiculous."

Image copyright Thinkstock

Quota rules allow Mark and his crew to catch 50 kilos of cod a month. They did this on the first day. Their allowance used up, they are now forced to throw back any more they catch.

"We can catch three times our quota in one morning. It’s heartbreaking, but what can you do? There's so much cod out there it’s ridiculous."

With an election imminent, what does he want to hear from the politicians?

"More quota! They listen don’t they, but will they do anything?"

Image caption Paul Joy: "Four people derive a living from half a fish. Jesus did it, but I'm afraid I can't"

Up on the seafront of the Sussex town, on the balcony of the fishermen’s cafe, Paul Joy looks out over the beached boats with their ragged flags towards the choppy water. His ancestors have been launching from this beach for almost 1,000 years.

"There are a lot of newcomers here who only came in the 1600s. They're still classed as the new boys."

He runs the Hastings Fishermen’s Protection Society, campaigning at a European level for change to the system.

"My cod quota is 1.4 kilos a day, and I have three people who go to sea on my boat, and one who helps on the shore. So, four people derive a living from half a fish. Jesus did it, but I'm afraid I can’t."

He talks with intensity about the intricacies and illogicalities of the quota system.

"The enforcement is draconian," says Mr Joy. "We were at sea and we had helicopters over us, checking us, filming us. When we came back to shore we had the Marine Management Organisation waiting for us to check our catch. I estimated the catch wrong and I had half a box of fish too much. I was fined £5,000 for half a box of fish."

Fish are a slippery resource to measure and manage. Quotas are set at a European level under the Common Fisheries Policy. Each government decides who gets what share of this allowance.

Griffin Carpenter from the New Economics Foundation has spent two years crunching the numbers.

"It doesn't really make sense to talk about fish as 'our fish' or someone else's fish. They don't have a certain flag on them; it’s not static like land that you can divide up in to different countries.

"Stock like herring or mackerel will be in different countries' waters at different times and so we see even with member states that are outside the EU - it’s still quite difficult to manage these relationships between how much you can catch and how much can go to different countries."

The vast majority of the 3,000 UK-registered vessels are small in-shore boats (under 10m long) based in small, traditional fishing communities.

They have access to only around 6% of the fishing quota. One UK-flagged but Dutch-controlled vessel, the Cornelis Vrolijik, holds almost a quarter of the English quota.

However, under the reforms to the Common Fisheries Policy, which came into force in 2014, governments must now prove that they have considered environmental, social and economic factors when handing out rights.

Image caption Mark Woodley: "We chucked six boxes of cod away today. It's just ridiculous"

Greenpeace has just been granted a judicial review of the current domestic share allocation. It argues that under the new EU rules it could be unlawful.

Will McCallum is from Greenpeace: "We’re not saying that the quota needs to be taken away from all the big boats and given to the small boats; we are just saying that the small ones should be right at the very front. They are the ones that fish sustainably, they are the ones that provide jobs in coastal jobs in coastal towns, and they boost the local economy, and they deserve to have their fair share of the quota."

In the fishermen’s cafe, Mark Woodley is now out of his oilskins, holding a cup of tea and biting into a cheese sandwich. How does he see his future?

"It’s not very good, is it? I mean, we’re all in our fifties. In another 10 years, we'll be gone anyway.

"You look along the beach here - there aren’t many young lads, and there should be. There’s plenty of fish out there for them. They're just not allowed to catch it. But fishing is our way of life. It’s what we do."

One hope for the Hastings fishermen is that now all the politicians agree that there needs to be change.

In their election manifestos, all the main parties say that the domestic quota allocation should be reviewed.

Image caption The town of Hastings is one of the oldest fishing ports in the UK

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