The government today abandoned its current plans to impose fishing licences on a million sea anglers in Britain.

The move follows several years of campaigning by the National Federation of Sea Anglers (NFSA) to convince successive fisheries ministers that because fishstocks were so seriously depleted by commercial overfishing, the few fish left for anglers were not worth buying licence to catch.

A provision enabling licences to be imposed has been withdrawn from the government’s big new Marine Bill due to be published shortly. The news came in a written parliamentary answer to Martin Salter (Labour, Reading West) from the fisheries minister, Jonathan Shaw.

A survey of NFSA members showed that only eight per cent supported the idea.

The case was argued by the NFSA in its responses to government consultations, face-to-face with civil servants and last month directly with the minister at a “meet the anglers” session in Penzance, and at a meeting in Westminster.

Richard Ferré, chairman of the NFSA, said today: “The NFSA and anglers throughout the country have worked hard to honestly represent to the Minister their view that a licence would have been unfair, financially unviable and detrimental to the sport.

“The minister and his civil servants are to be congratulated for listening to and analysing our arguments and now for taking this decision.”

Mr. Salter who is the Labour spokesman for angling, said that he remained committed to the principle of a rod licence for all forms of recreational fishing but added: “Let’s first get in place the conservation measures necessary to stop the over exploitation by the commercial sector and give Britain’s sea anglers a chance of a decent days sport before we ask them to pay to catch fish that might not be there.”

Mr. Ferré said he believed it would herald much needed improved relations between the government and the million-strong recreational sea angling industry which was worth nearly £600 million a year in England and Wales alone and supported 19,000 jobs.

“Our aim is to expand the sport and sustain the thousands of businesses dependant on it.

“Many of those businesses would have been badly hurt by an unpopular licence scheme deterring thousands of families who go sea angling on holiday every year often introducing their children to a fascinating, close to nature, outdoor activity.”

Anglers were particularly pleased that the minister has clearly indicated his intention to continue with the action programme they have been lobbying for to improve sea angling which has been seriously affected by declining fishstocks.

“High on our priority list is the need for new minimum landing sizes to stop commercial fishermen and anglers alike taking fish before they have even spawned once and much improved netting restrictions around our shores.”