Fishing proposal stirs waters

It has been a tradition for hundreds of years but now the Great British sea angler could be about to catch more than just fish.

It has been a tradition for hundreds of years but now the Great British sea angler could be about to catch more than just fish.

Those who brave all weathers fishing from the beach or pier end, and those who go out on special boat trips, are set to be penalised by new legislation for a new sea fishing licensing system that is being dangled on the end of the line by the government as a way to tackle declining fish stocks.

Ministers are proposing charges to cover beach anglers, boat fishing and charter trips, quashing a right to fish the coastal waters off Britain enshrined in law for almost 800 years.

Anglers insisted last night that it was their right as Englishman to fish the waters off the coast for free as laid down in the ancient laws.

Reaction to the plan was universally hostile yesterday. It was dismissed as “ridiculous” while the blame for decimating the fish population was laid at the door of large trawlers not fishermen with rods.

Others saw the proposals as just another way for the government to make money. They also argued that it would be prohibitively expensive to patrol 2,500 miles of coast line, not to mention small boats out to sea.

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But David Miliband, the Environment Secretary, believes the licence would raise funds to help manage fish stocks. It would also be used to improve shore access, car parks, and create launch sites for small boats and artificial reefs.

Derrick Amief, who has run Gorleston Tackle Centre for 22 years, said: “As an Englishman it is part of our history that we can fish the sea. It is like out freedom of speech – a right.”

He said he agreed with the fresh water licence, which costs £24.50 a year, because the money provides a service, including filling rivers and lakes with fish.

But he said: “We can't restock the sea. Nature restocks the sea. The fish don't belong to anybody. They don't belong to the government or the council. If I have to pay this licence I will then expect the government to restock the sea.”

And he said if anglers had to pay the fee, trawlers should pay a proportional amount for the quantity of fish they catch.

“If a boat comes along and takes two million fish away is it going to pay a proportional rate for all those fish? How much would they pay –£1/2m?

“The problem is caused by the big boats trawling up the nurseries. There is no restriction on their coming in close to the shore. The small fish don't get used but they get killed.”

He said that in the last two years six tackle shops had closed in the town, saying the government were putting pressure on an industry that was already depressed.

John Temple, who runs a charter angling boat off Yarmouth called the Tempo, said the hire boat industry had collapsed. When he started in 1969 there were 50 boats; now there were four.

“We are struggling already with charges with all the new safety regulations. There is a hell of an expense to keep the boats up to standard. It is too much money,” he said.

“We will have to pass the charge on to customers, which will make the price too high. It is going to stop people going fishing, which is a shame.”

And Adam Wright, of Norfolk Fishing and Charter, which runs a boat out of Brancaster, said: “How are they going to police it at sea? How are they going to know if I have got a rod out? I could be bird watching. It seems like it would cost more to enforce it then it would raise in funds.”

George Twite, secretary of Fakenham Angling Club, added: “It is pathetic. The government is doing it just to get a bit more money.”

North Norfolk MP Norman Lamb said he would be looking into the proposals carefully, saying his initial reaction was that it a money spinner for the Treasury.

“To charge fees for something that has been done almost since the beginning of time for free will upset a lot of people,” he said.

The government has invited comments on its proposals and a new Bill, not expected until 2009.