You'll have to shell out on the sea front

Fishing lines

There is a spot on the Yorkshire coast where only the brave or foolhardy venture to fish. That's because you have to climb down a 200ft rock face to reach the hot spot. Then, of course, you have to climb back up again, this time carrying your catch.

There is a spot on the Yorkshire coast where only the brave or foolhardy venture to fish. That's because you have to climb down a 200ft rock face to reach the hot spot. Then, of course, you have to climb back up again, this time carrying your catch.

I went there once, when I was younger and fitter. I had never climbed in my life, and after that expedition I vowed never to try it again. Didn't enjoy the fishing, either: I was too busy worrying about whether I would spend the rest of my life having meals ferried down to me on a rope, or living on raw cod.

Memories of playing Sherpa Tensing came flooding back when I heard about plans to make every sea fisher buy an annual permit. Licences mean enforcement, and I chuckled at the idea of officials packing ropes, pitons and crampons to make sure someone wasn't cheating the Government out of £22.

Freshwater fishers have had to buy an annual licence since 1992. Sea angling, however, has always been free. More than one million people are dangling lines from pier, boat and beach, and not contributing a penny towards ministerial cars.

Sea-fishing licences are commonplace in the US. But there, anglers get something back. Areas are reserved for recreational fishing and closed to trawling or inshore netting. In England and Wales, I've seen trawlers come so close that anglers had to wind in their lines.

The Government, as you might expect, offer jam tomorrow. They claim sea anglers are "economically and socially significant, when it comes to apportioning fish stocks", and say they should be "better represented in organisations such as fisheries committees". They also suggest there should be habitats where commercial fishing is banned, possibly the first mile from shore.

The report proposes charging inshore fishermen who carry out small-scale netting. It is suggested this could raise £3m a year. But who's getting the better of that deal: boats netting fish by the hundred, or the angler, catching a couple and paying seven times more for the privilege? In any case, I'm worried about the genius who is doing the number-crunching on all this: the Government propose a £22 annual licence, but want to charge £8 for a weekly one.

Commercial boats take precious little notice of rules anyway. Visit some of the smaller Welsh ports at night, and watch vast quantities of bass being landed, then spirited off to France. See how many boats are netting fish from the so-called nursery areas. Even assuming everyone plays by the rules on the one-mile limit, what happens when fish move outside the safe zone to spawn? Yup, fishmeal.

The bulk of freshwater-rod licence income goes towards stopping salmon poaching. Would the same thing happen at sea, and to hell with flounders, cod and mackerel? I think the whole thing's daft. Why, they'll be saying you need a licence for your television next.

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