By Molly Tompsett

When I was in primary school, I’d watch my father arrive at the school gates to pick me up. He’d hold my hand and I’d feel the roughness of his skin on mine. I’d look up and see his weathered skin and how the sun had permanently tanned his face. 

Even though I grew up in London, it was common knowledge that I was the girl whose dad was a fisherman. My love for London remains strong, but my fondness for the seaside has always been a huge part of my identity. I decided to interview my dad, Neil, who’s based in Hastings, about what it means to be a fisherman in 2021.

Where do you fish?
At the moment, I’m running off Hastings Beach where we land the boat after we’ve finished for the day. I lived in Rye as a boy, so I’ve always been around the sea and saw a way to make a living from it. 

What does a typical day fishing look like?
I’m currently angling for bass: we catch bass using a line out on the wrecks off Eastbourne and Hastings. It depends on the season – in late spring I net fish. Angling is more sustainable as you’re directly catching the fish you wish to sell, whereas in net fishing you don’t know what you’ll get and if they are sellable.

There’s a great difference between the two: when we line fish, we only go out for a few hours. Bass are predatory, so we only need to go out when they’re feeding. When I’m net fishing I may spend a whole day with my nets out. 

Right now, we typically go out early in the morning, depending on the tide. When we return to the beach, we land the fish and ice them. From there, they often go to Brixham, where the largest online fishing market is, or we sell locally to people and restaurants in Hastings.

What got you into fishing?
I’ve been fishing in some way all my life. My first memory of it is fishing for mackerel with my dad and then going door-to-door to sell it for pocket money. I’ve always been by the sea … I’m a cancer, a water sign represented by the crab, so I feel there’s some significance in my connection to the ocean.

I left the navy in 1988 and bought my first boat, the Louanne Marie – a small punt made of wood. I liked the way I could work for myself, be my own boss and set my own hours, learning on the job and gradually building confidence. You become a jack of all trades. 

CREDIT: Fiona McGarry

How has fishing changed over the years?
It’s becoming harder, there aren’t as many fish now – but every year is different. During the pandemic we lost business, as people weren’t eating out in restaurants, but we would often sell directly to people on the beach.

What’s your favourite fish recipe?
Something simple like scallops, pan fried in butter. The great thing about buying locally caught fish is the freshness, where fish is less than a day old.

How can people support local fisherman?
By buying seafood from fishermen close to them and eating at restaurants supplied by local fishermen. Even walking along the seafront and buying from local shacks is a great way to support the industry!

What does the British fisherman symbolise to you?
The salt of the earth, honest work!

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