Daft licences to kill thrill of sea fishing

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The Independent Online

Do you ever get a really good idea in the middle of the night? You wake up and you think "God, that's genius". Perhaps you even write it down, so afraid might you be of not remembering this Nobel prize-winning idea in the morning. I've had many: they've all been revealed as surreal and hopeless come dawn, but in the dead of night they seemed incredibly clever and "world problem solving".

Do you ever get a really good idea in the middle of the night? You wake up and you think "God, that's genius". Perhaps you even write it down, so afraid might you be of not remembering this Nobel prize-winning idea in the morning. I've had many: they've all been revealed as surreal and hopeless come dawn, but in the dead of night they seemed incredibly clever and "world problem solving".

Well, I think this is exactly what must have happened to someone involved in the Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) Review of Marine Fisheries and Environmental Enforcement. Except this person took the idea into daylight, and beyond. The idea is to charge sea-anglers to go fishing, the same way as freshwater anglers are charged, via an annual or daily licence. But, get this, in a fantastic bit of spin they veil it in terms of it being a "package" for sea anglers - yes it will actually benefit them! This reminds me of those signs you get saying things like "for your convenience, this post office has been closed down and the nearest one is 200 miles away and opens for one hour every other Monday in the months of January and July only". Hence we are told that the government are going to pay "greater attention" to the needs of sea anglers and the best way to do this is by charging them, so that they will be better represented by, say, a new marine agency which will look out for their "interests".

One of the lovely things about fishing the sea is the lack of any prior thought. You get up, you go fishing. That's it. No booking beats, no thinking about licences. It's just how sea-fishing should be: wild, unstructured and a little bit dangerous. Not a load of paperwork.

Imagine the inevitable effect on the little day boats that take people out for a bit of impromptu mackerel fishing. Licences will put £8 a day, per person on top of current prices: for a family of two that's another £16.

Anyone from the government would argue with me, and I'd love them to, that it's just not that simple. The seas are overfished, they need inshore management. Yes, but it's not the lone sea angler or owner of small boats - the very people this licence is aimed at - that cause this problem. "A ha", say the government, "but the proposed £3m a year these new licences would raise (an estimated million people go sea-fishing and the licences would cost £22 a year or £8 a day) could be used to police the seas and stop the over-fishing. But it's hardly the job of the "one rod, one man" sea fisherman to finance this.

The big trawlers, which cause the problem of stock decimation, catching juvenile fish and destroying the sea-bed, won't be touched by this fantastically stupid idea. Neither will £3m help police the seas. The Common Fisheries Policy is the root of our overfishing problems and stemming from that are the big trawlers, some of which just don't give a damn about how irresponsibly they fish (the most common offenders are the Spanish, French and Italians). If they're ever caught and fined at all they just pay up and do it again.

The consultation letter - sent out to the fishing industry - actually says that "it is not the purpose of the review to examine the merits of the policies which need to be enforced, including the Common Fisheries Policy". Why not? You can't actually have a review without discussing the reasons why you need one.

The industry has until the end of September to respond. Let's hope someone points out the obvious: that where sea wildlife is concerned, no amount of revenue lets you buy more fish. It just doesn't work that way.

It's laughable that this is all happening on the eve of National Fishing Week, which kicks off on 21 August ( nationalfishingweek.co.uk). This laudable event is to encourage young people, in particular, to take up fishing. It's sponsored by the Environment Agency, which is part of... Defra.

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