A controversial scheme to licence sea angling in the draft Marine Bill to be published around Easter 2008, could become bureaucratic, covering only its own costs and not bring any benefits to sea anglers.

Although the bill was not specifically mentioned in the Queen’s speech to parliament today (Tuesday), the government confirmed that it was still committed to bringing it before parliament during the next parliament.

Angling organisations predict only a quarter of the country’s one million sea anglers would pay up for licences.  That would generate up to £3.5 million a year and just about cover the cost of administration and enforcement, leaving no funds to develop the sport.

In a summary of public responses to the proposed licences, the environment department (Defra) says the main reasons behind the opposition were that the impact of recreational sea angling was considered much less significant than commercial fishing.  Licensing was not needed to control it and other recreational users of the sea were not licensed.

“The public responses to this licensing proposal reflected much that we have urged on Defra for the last two years,” said Richard Ferré, chairman of the National Federation of Sea Anglers.

“Of 271 comments on ideas for modernising sea fisheries’ management, 55 were from recreational sea angling,” he said.  “That shows the depth of feeling against arbitrary licensing and we will continue our determined opposition.”

Defra said a number of respondents considered that occasional sea anglers would be put off by the need for a licence and that might have an adverse effect on the angling boat charter business.

Mr. Ferré said this would particularly affect those on holiday with children

Anglers and others who conditionally supported or were neutral towards licences, said fishstocks would have to be significantly improved to make them acceptable. Any revenue must be returned to the angling sector otherwise they would be seen as an additional tax.

Respondents who supported licences saw it as a means for sea anglers to influence government fisheries policy and increase financial support for sea angling.

Defra’s summary said many respondents supported the ability to apply set bag limits on the number of fish which can be retained under certain conditions, such as essential conservation, but applied proportionately to all fishing.  Recreational sea anglers said imposing bag limits on them to reserve fish stocks for others was unacceptable.

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