The new decade of the 1960s began with Hastings boasting a colourful fleet of modern trawlers, backed up by a group of multi-purpose punts, a total of roughly 36 boats (although not all were working). The trawlers had big diesel engines enabling them to tow against the tide, instead of just with it as had been the case with the Kelvins. The trawlers also had wheelhouses where modern aids such as echo sounders and later radio and radar could be fitted (the first small, fairly cheap echo sounders appeared in the mid-1950s).
The new trawlers could not catch fish that were not in the sea, however. By the early 1960s overfishing of the outside grounds had depressed the industry still further, and the future looked bleak again. The situation was saved by the extension of the fishing limits in September, 1964, from three to 12 miles. The inshore six miles of the 12 were exclusive to Britain, while the outer six were shared with France and Belgium who claimed historic rights to work there. During the rest of the 1960s the French and the Belgians did not take full advantage of their privileges in the outer six miles, however, and the local fish stocks recovered enough to give the Hastings fleet a better living.
During the 1960s the punts underwent changes that subsequently helped to transform fishing at Hastings. Punts – undecked craft now up to about 24ft long have been in use at Hastings for centuries. Before engines appeared they could be just rowing boats with a sail at their smallest, or 18-20ft two-masters at their largest. But generally until the 1950s punts were small compared with today’s craft, being usually 14-16ft long. They occupied the west end of the stade near the harbour.
Punters used to be looked down on by the big boat men, sometimes being equated with that most despised of beings, the farmer. The origin of this prejudice lay in the deep-sea sailing skills needed by the! old big boat fishermen on their long voyages, skills not required by the punters who only fished within a few miles of Hastings. This attitude was hardly fair, however, as the big boat men could survive in recent years by just one form of fishing, trawling, while the ptunters had to be experts at a whole range of other methods as well: spratting, trammelling, mackerel and herring drifting, shrimp trawling, longlining and anything else when times were hard. The punters were the poorest fishermen, usually owners of their craft and unable to afford the move up to a big boat because the punts were too small to make any significant profit.