Labour’s Parliamentary Spokesman for Angling Martin Salter used a debate on the Marine Environment in the House of Commons last week to outline the steps that would need to be taken to make a rod licence acceptable to sea anglers.

The Reading West MP reminded Fisheries Minister, Ben Bradshaw, that licences for commercial boats are currently issued free of charge and then sold on.

He said:

“There is no revenue stream from the issuing of commercial rod licences to fund the enforcement and management measures that we need. The licences are sold on from father to son and from friend to colleague. That is not a modern, 21st-century regime, so the situation needs to be resolved.”

Martin Salter then highlighted the strong support for the freshwater rod licence saying:

“Let us consider the thorny issue of licences for sea anglers. If I were to go trout or salmon fishing, I would pay a substantial amount for a rod licence, as would be the case if I were to go freshwater fishing or coarse fishing. Ironically, the licence is one of the more popular taxes. When the former Leader of the Opposition proposed getting rid of the freshwater licence, there was a howl of opposition because anglers are not stupid. Freshwater anglers realise that no Government will fund the £15 million for fisheries work and the enforcement functions of the Environment Agency through any other method, and certainly not with a direct Treasury grant. The proposal was thus quietly dropped.”

Mr Salter then drew attention to the comments on a sea rod licence in Labour’s “Charter for Angling” which he helped write in 2005. The Charter said:

“Labour agrees that whilst a sea angling rod licence could deliver valuable income the current organisational arrangements are not in place … which might make a licence acceptable to recreational sea anglers … Labour acknowledges the arguments put forward by the National Federation of Sea Anglers … that many of the following actions would need to take place alongside the introduction of a sea angling rod licence … The proper enforcement of regulations and minimum landing sizes … The replacement of the Sea Fishery Committees with an agency charged with marine ecology management—possibly by extending the responsibilities of the E.A … Or, vastly improved representation by sea anglers, … on reformed Sea Fisheries Committees.”

Mr Salter added for the government to make clear that measures would be put in place to improve coastal fish stocks before a rod licence is introduced. However, he also made it clear that he supported the government including the power to levy a rod licence in the forthcoming Marine Bill.

He said:

“I do not think that the recreational sea angling sector is wholly hostile to the idea of a rod licence. However, as other hon. Members have said, given the problems that sea anglers have faced for a long time, which have been caused by other sectors and our collective failure to manage this precious marine resource, they are entitled to see some improvements first. I would urge all hon. Members, in a cross-party spirit, to go ahead with the power to create a sea rod licence. However, we should be very clear about the pre-conditions and circumstances under which such a licence would be introduced.

Sea anglers have to recognise that the freshwater sector is better able to make demands of the Government by virtue of paying for a licence and having an automatic involvement in stakeholder groups and other representative bodies. Many members of the sea angling sector realise that “no pay, no say” is, in part, a problem for that sector. Sea angling licences exist in many other countries, in particular the United States.

Recreational sea anglers in this country must also realise that the enforcement of conservation measures to protect the fish that they wish to catch costs money and that revenue streams need to be created. However, we need to give them confidence that the Marine Bill that will follow from the excellent Marine Bill White Paper will put measures in place to protect fish stocks.”

Fisheries Minister Ben Bradshaw, replying to the debate on behalf of the government confirmed that the sea anglers were entitled to see some benefits if they are to be charged for a rod licence at some point in the future.

Mr Bradshaw said:

“There is an argument, for which there is support in the angling community, that just as the freshwater angling, or rod, licence has delivered conservation benefits in our rivers and lakes for anglers—they recognise that and it is why the rod licence is popular—there is potential to do the same in the marine area. However, I take his point that there must be a quid pro quo. There is a duty on us in government and us as legislators to deliver the benefits that the sea angling community would like to see if it is to be asked to contribute.”

Speaking after the debate Mr Salter said:

“I welcome Ben Bradshaw’s recognition that improvements should be delivered before a sea rod licence is introduced. However sea anglers also need to recognise that they have a responsibility to make a contribution to protect and enhance the public fishing on which their sport depends.”