Sports active: Fishing lines: Britain's cod have had their chips

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The Independent Online
Millions of years ago, when dinosaurs walked the land and you could get change from pounds 2 for a pint of bitter, a fish called cod swam in our seas. A plebeian fish with a patrician taste, it was the heart of British cuisine. With its close friend chips, it became a partnership as famous as Laurel and Hardy, strawberries and cream, crime and a police answering machine.

But then it came to pass, in the reign of Edward the Buffoon, a man who did a good line in prime minister impersonations, that we gave away our fishing rights to Europe, and let anyone with a net and a foreign accent catch our cod. Before long, even though the female cod is a prolific little breeder, producing up to six million eggs, the fish became scarce.

You can pay as much as pounds 10 a kilo for it now. The fish that was once cheap as chips has become a luxury item. But if you really want to impress your rich pals, let me show you how you can pay as much as pounds 500 for a cod. Surely even Roman Abramovich would be impressed by that.

First, you charter a fishing boat. I'm going out with the Essex skipper John Rawle, who charges pounds 300 a day. The boat will take 10 anglers, but it gets a bit crowded with that many. Six is ideal. At the moment, at least eight want to join me, but when it comes to sending their pounds 50, that number will drop by more than half.

The other three will say that they'll give me the money on the day. However, one will have to work at short notice, one will oversleep and a third won't be able to start his car.

We have to leave the moorings at 9am or we won't get out over the sandbar. So I'll have this huge boat to myself. Now, though John supplies bait, I always like to take a bit extra. In the old days, I dug my own. Matter of pride. These days, it's hard work and makes my back ache. Easier to give someone a few quid to do it. Better take a few squid as well, a bit of mackerel, maybe even some peeler crabs, which cod just love. Suddenly, that extra bait is costing as much as a place on the boat.

I'd better pick up a few more leads, hooks, swivels, beads, line and, gosh, is that the new Abu reel? What a beauty! Bet it casts to the horizon. Only one way to find out. No wonder my tackle dealer shouts to his wife: "Book that holiday!" when he sees me walk through the door.

When you're freelance, what does a day off work cost? pounds 100? pounds 200? My office laughingly offers my training services at over pounds 1,000 a day, though they don't let me near that sort of money. But you get the point. Suddenly, my fun day out is costing as much as a holiday to the Caribbean.

The only hope is that John Rawle, who's an excellent angler, will feel sorry for me and give away the cod he catches (which I'll pretend I caught myself). But I fear he will need about 80 fish averaging 8lb if I'm to come anywhere near breaking even. And I'm not sure there are that many left in the sea.

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