A fleet beached by their own side

Last updated at 17:42 18 March 2005

Gulls chased the little fishing boat all the way to port. That should have been breakfast down there, floating away on the English Channel after the crew gutted cod and Dover sole.

There was nothing at all for them this morning, though. So the birds got angry and screamed then turned away into the cold, dull sky.

Paul Joy whacked The Sandra into the shingle along Hastings beach and people got the winch going and dragged the boat up the beach and a long way out of the water. The birds could forget it. He only had enough fish to feed a couple of cats. Everything he brought back from his nets would go in a two gallon bucket. 'What have we got here,' Paul said so other fishermen could hear and compare their miserable notes. 'I've eight small soles, three codlings and seven baby plaice.'

That was from sailing into the freezing mist at 6am and coming home seven hours later. This would make him and his crewman Ken Moss about £4 each after expenses.

'Worst spell I can ever remember,' Paul said, going somewhere to thaw his frozen fingers.

So bad everyone connected with the fishing boat RX 52 over there had given up and gone painting. And the NN 201 men were building houses outside of town.

'Nobody around here has made enough to buy a few sandwiches for six weeks.'

This was another fisherman, Graham Coglan, talking. He's the port representative for all the fishermen. Now he walked with Paul, the chairman of the Fishermen's Protection Society, to their office just to see if the Government had sent down any more harassment.

Right now it's bad times. Weather is the reason. When the sea temperature rises another three degrees to about 14 degrees, the Dover sole should migrate into Hastings water. Those will be the good times. There will be some cod as well.

Catching cod in nets is like having an unexploded mine come aboard. The Government, through the Department for the Environment Food and Rural Affairs, put Paul Joy in Lewes Crown Court with murderers and rapists because he had 140kg of cod one day in October 2003.

That was more than he was allowed, the Fisheries Inspectors claimed. The judge said he was going to treat the case just the same as if it were drink driving. If Paul Joy was over the limit that's guilty. And guilty it was. He was fined £5,000 with £2,500 costs.

In another court a man convicted of manslaughter was fined £2,000.

Paul was out there in all kinds of seas hauling two miles of nets for a few boxfulls of fish. His family have been working off Hastings beach since 1200. They saw off the Armada and Hitler's sea raiders. The next enemy turned out to be the Government of their own country.

The judge at Lewes said European law was paramount.

So Paul tried to wave a letter at him from Franz Fischler, the EU Fishing Commissioner, saying boats like his were exempt from all quotas. There were no quotas for boats under 10m. No need to fill in logbooks, no need for a permit or declare landings. It was all in the letter with Fischler's signature at the bottom.

'I couldn't get the judge to read it,' Paul said after taking a call about something to do with the appeal he's lodged. 'In one breath the judge says he will obey EU law. Next breath he's against it.'

A skull and crossbones, the pirate flag, snapped in the wind from a mast on the next building.

'We want the fishing inspectors to see it,' Graham Coglan said. From what he had read, Graham said, he thought the Gestapo were better people to deal with than the inspectors. 'They're there checking every time I come in with a few fish. How many of these have you got? What size? Weigh it, measure it.'

The inspectors didn't like him much. 'We're always having a swear-up, that's why.' There were other fishermen who said the Government had begun to hate them.

'They put a Royal Navy gunboat to skulk about Dungeness. Do you think it was to arrest foreign trawlers with undersize catch or protected species? Was it hell! They didn't touch them. They were there to check us out, to interfere if possible. Nobody is fighting for us any more.'

And hasn't, Paul Joy said, since Prime Minister Heath sold out the English Channel to the French and gave them 76.4 per cent of the allowable catch and 7.9 per cent to Britain. Fishing is a disaster. So is the Blair Government.

'I can't make up my mind whether Blair actually wants a fishing industry at all,' someone in the office said. Everybody else nodded.

'Do you know, we can't even afford to insure the boats,' Paul said, reading some figures from his ledger.

He looked sad. 'I don't understand why the Government has taken against us. They have. We've become as regulated as the drugs industry.' Graham Coglan pointed to a deadlooking vessel on the ridge of the beach. 'Lad there's boat broke down. He had thousands of pounds worth of nets out. So he borrowed a leisure boat to go and salvage them. There was some fish.

'These bloody inspectors accused him of fishing from an unregistered boat. Madness. Is it worth it?'

This young guy, new in the business, said even he could remember 40 boats fishing from Hastings. It was only 26 last week.

That was the answer right there.

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