A WEEK after the Tories announced that they would scrap the £22.50 rod licence there is scarcely any support for their position amongst the national governing bodies for angling and leading angling politicians, says Labour.

Prior to the announcement, senior figures in the sport warned the Tories against simply looking for a populist gimmick without examining the facts or the consequences.

Parliamentary Spokesman for Angling Martin Salter MP said: “This is a cheap political gimmick by the Tories who are simply grubbing around for a few votes and a couple of headlines. 

“They have already been told that scrapping the rod licence would strip between £15-16m out of the total fisheries budget for the Environment Agency of £24m. This would represent a 66% cut in funding and totally restrict the ability of the EA to fight pollution, to re-stock our fisheries or to promote angling participation projects like Mick Watson’s fantastic Get Hooked on Fishing scheme in County Durham.

He added: “This hopelessly uncosted policy is little more than a licence to pollute and would put angling back into the dark ages. Virtually every European country has a system of rod licences to fund fisheries work and angling needs every penny it can get to protect and enhance the waterside environment. 

“The Tories are refusing to say where the £16m shortfall will come from and are also pledged to cut 20% from public expenditure as a whole, so there is little prospect of the EA being able to continue its fisheries work. In fact the last time we had a Tory government the yearly grant-in-aid for EA fisheries work was cut from £14.5 m to £7.4 m between 1994 and 1996.”

Countryside Alliance spokesman Tim Bonner said: “We believe there is a justification for fishing licences and we are not in agreement about removing them. The money goes straight into water quality issues and river conservation, so there is a very important point to it.  

“Also, fishermen have a seat at the table when expenditure of that money is discussed.  Canoeists, by comparison, don’t pay a fee so their voice is far less loud.”

Nature Conservation and Fisheries Minister Ben Bradshaw MP made it clear that the government will oppose the Tory plans saying: “The Government is committed to angling, a mass-participation sport, but it would make no sense scrapping angling licences. These pay for essential work undertaken by the Environment Agency in cleaning, re-stocking and preserving waterways. I welcome the fact that the Countryside Alliance recognise, and many anglers would agree, that the work being done by the Environment Agency is to the benefit of the whole sport and the wider environment.

“Without that £15m of revenue a year, there would be severe pressure on the Environment Agency in providing its current level of services. As the Alliance says, the fee also gives anglers an important voice which is heard clearly in Government.”

Mr Salter recently visited the Get Hooked on Fishing Project to see how they have benefited from financial support from the Environment Agency.

Mick Watson, Executive Director of Get Hooked on Fishing said: “Without the support and funding from the Environment Agency Get Hooked would never have got off the ground benefiting over 300 young people so far with many more to come. Any policy like this which would remove resources from the EA’s valuable fishery work would be a disaster for angling as a whole. The rod licence must be retained.” 

The Tories believe that the licence costs as much to enforce and collect as it produces in revenue. Mr Salter does not agree, and says collection costs are around £1.2 million, the bulk of which goes to the Post Office network which needs all the support it can get, particularly in rural areas. Enforcement costs are less than £1m per annum, he says, and most anglers welcome seeing an EA bailiff on the bank side checking that all is well.

He added that the recent Salmon and Freshwater Fisheries Review, which reported in 2000, unanimously concluded that the rod licence was an important part of the funding for fisheries work. He believes this is the view of all the mainstream national angling bodies.

“The Tories said nothing to contradict this conclusion at the time – so why are they making a fuss now?” he said.

Paul Knight, Director of the Salmon and Trout Association, threw his weight behind those opposing the rod licence ban saying:

“The licence fee contributes £15m net to an annual EA Fisheries budget of some £24m, and so is vital to the continued efficiency of that service. If the licence fee were abolished, we do not believe that the Treasury of any Government, present or future, would be prepared to make this up with extra GIA. 

“Indeed, angling and fisheries have been asking for increased GIA support for the EA so that their fisheries budget is expanded, not reduced. Paying a licence fee gives angling a voice at the ‘top table’ where angling and fisheries issues are decided – specifically Government departments and agencies

“Paying a licence fee and producing funding towards the maintenance, improvement and development of fisheries, upon which, of course, angling depends, gives the sport a certain moral status when negotiating such issues as access. 

That is not to say angling should be necessarily closed to shared access agreements, but at least our starting position is one of strength, as we already pay for our sport and are regulated in our use of water.”

Martin Salter concluded: “Iain Duncan Smith has miscalculated badly and his crackpot scheme has bombed spectacularly. He is now faced with a stark choice – either rip up his economic policy by committing to find the extra £15million that will be lost in rod licence revenue by increasing public expenditure or face the charge of becoming the polluters friend and damaging Britain’s most popular participant sport enjoyed by over 3 million people.”