Fishing Lines: Pond life, and a licence to print money

Not so long ago, you could fish free on any public water in England or Wales. Nowadays, you need a rod licence - £24.50, or £66.50 if you want to fish for salmon and sea trout. Even 12-year-olds must pay a fiver, though if they are anything like pre-teens in my time, they will claim to be only 11 if nabbed by a bailiff.

We were supposed to have the right to fish in perpetuity under the Magna Carta, but smart lawyers specialising in finding loopholes in ancient documents found King John's draughtsmen had left out an "or", or something, and now I have got to pay to fish my garden pond or risk a fine of up to £2,500.

To be fair, the Environment Agency, which polices the scheme, has done some sterling work on restocking waters, dealing with pollution, improving fisheries and so on. But I'm pretty certain that fishing generally isn't any better than pre-licences, and I read somewhere that at least one in 10 still fails to buy a licence anyway.

I must admit that I haven't been checked for about seven years - I've got one, for any smartass bailiff hoping to nab me in the back garden. But it doesn't inspire confidence on how successful a proposed licence for sea fishermen might be.

Those who dangle a line from boat, pier or beach have so far escaped the clammy hand of a bailiff on their shoulders. But now David Miliband, the Environment Secretary, wants to impose licences on the million or so sea fishers out there.

He claims it would help fish stocks, provide launch sites for small boats and create artificial reefs. But once again, such a move would overturn a right that anglers have enjoyed for nearly 1,500 years, established by the Digest of Justinian, a Byzantine legal codification - though I believe it was actually Ethelred the Unsuccessful who made sure the law went through.

Can the government really say that common law doesn't really count? Well, seems so if you take what happened in fresh water. And ministers will doubtless look covetously at the maths. (£25 x say, one million = enough for 25 fact-finding tours for the whole Cabinet to the US, where sea licences are already in place.)

More to the point, will it make any difference? The National Federation of Sea Anglers oppose licences unless they bring obvious benefits, like banning trawlers from a mile of the shore, stopping gill-netting on reefs and in estuaries, and ensuring that species with little value are left alone by the commercial sector. Fish such as conger eels, dabs, flounders, small sharks, rays and mullet are worth pence to a trawler but are prime targets for sea anglers.

The Government has invited comments, but a petition is already under way to scupper the scheme, though a Bill to change the law is not expected until 2009.

I'm ambivalent. The licence system worked wonderfully for striped bass on the eastern US seaboard but I fear administration will gulp up all the money here. If bailiffs can't be bothered to walk along the river Ouse towpath, will they really patrol 2,500 miles of our coastline?

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Front-End UI Application Developer

£30000 - £40000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Front-End UI Application ...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Account Executive

£18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Service Engineers - Doncaster / Hull

£27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Domestic Service Only Engineers are requ...

Recruitment Genius: Employability / Recruitment Adviser

£23600 - £27500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The Employability Service withi...

Day In a Page

Where the spooks get their coffee fix: The busiest Starbucks in the US is also the most secretive

The secret CIA Starbucks

The coffee shop is deep inside the agency's forested Virginia compound
Revealed: How the Establishment closed ranks over fallout from Loch Ness Monster 'sighting'

How the Establishment closed ranks over fallout from Nessie 'sighting'

The Natural History Museum's chief scientist was dismissed for declaring he had found the monster
One million Britons using food banks, according to Trussell Trust

One million Britons using food banks

Huge surge in number of families dependent on emergency food aid
Excavation at Italian cafe to fix rising damp unearths 2,500 years of history in 3,000 amazing objects

2,500 years of history in 3,000 amazing objects

Excavation at Italian cafe to fix rising damp unearths trove
The Hubble Space Telescope's amazing journey, 25 years on

The Hubble Space Telescope's amazing journey 25 years on

The space telescope was seen as a costly flop on its first release
Did Conservative peer Lord Ashcroft quit the House of Lords to become a non-dom?

Did Lord Ashcroft quit the House of Lords to become a non-dom?

A document seen by The Independent shows that a week after he resigned from the Lords he sold 350,000 shares in an American company - netting him $11.2m
Apple's ethnic emojis are being used to make racist comments on social media

Ethnic emojis used in racist comments

They were intended to promote harmony, but have achieved the opposite
Sir Kenneth Branagh interview: 'My bones are in the theatre'

Sir Kenneth Branagh: 'My bones are in the theatre'

The actor-turned-director’s new company will stage five plays from October – including works by Shakespeare and John Osborne
The sloth is now the face (and furry body) of three big advertising campaigns

The sloth is the face of three ad campaigns

Priya Elan discovers why slow and sleepy wins the race for brands in need of a new image
How to run a restaurant: As two newbies discovered, there's more to it than good food

How to run a restaurant

As two newbies discovered, there's more to it than good food
Record Store Day: Remembering an era when buying and selling discs were labours of love

Record Store Day: The vinyl countdown

For Lois Pryce, working in a record shop was a dream job - until the bean counters ruined it
Usher, Mary J Blige and Will.i.am to give free concert as part of the Global Poverty Project

Mary J Blige and Will.i.am to give free concert

The concert in Washington is part of the Global Citizen project, which aims to encourage young people to donate to charity
10 best tote bags

Accessorise with a stylish shopper this spring: 10 best tote bags

We find carriers with room for all your essentials (and a bit more)
Paul Scholes column: I hear Manchester City are closing on Pep Guardiola for next summer – but I'd also love to see Jürgen Klopp managing in England

Paul Scholes column

I hear Manchester City are closing on Pep Guardiola for next summer – but I'd also love to see Jürgen Klopp managing in England
Jessica Ennis-Hill: 'I just want to give it my best shot'

Jessica Ennis-Hill: 'I just want to give it my best shot'

The heptathlete has gone from the toast of the nation to being a sleep-deprived mum - but she’s ready to compete again. She just doesn't know how well she'll do...