Henry Gilbey
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Henry Gilbey blog

Why are saltwater anglers so against a sea fishing licence ?

Oh no, he's gone and done it now. The somewhat thorny issue of a sea fishing licence here in the UK is somewhere that common sense says perhaps I should not go, but before you do shooting me down in flames, please read and this blog post and recognise that what I am categorically not doing is calling for the implementation of a sea fishing licence here in the UK - merely that I am interested in exploring the potential pros and cons and seeing what you people think about it...............

First off I love how sea fishing is free here in the UK and over in Ireland. Anybody can grab a bit of gear and head out fishing from the shore or from a boat, and there is always going to be the argument that it is our "right" if you like to go sea fishing - fish numbers, sizes and future issues/ problems be damned. I understand this and in I love how sea fishing truly crosses all social divides because it doesn't cost anything to do it. OK, so aside from needing a bit of fishing tackle and possibly some kind of transport to go and do it, you can't not like how there is not some Big Brother out there making you hand over a fee each year to go (sea) fishing. There can't be a sane angler out there who would want to pay money towards any kind of saltwater fishing licencing that was no more than yet another tax and therefore an increase in the already scary cost of living that every single one of us here is experiencing. Do I want to be taxed to go sea fishing ? No. Categorically not. End of. But what do I think about paying towards potentially having more and bigger fish to catch ? Another matter entirely.........

How happy am I that anybody can come to the UK as a visitor and catch "our" fish from "our" waters without being at least asked to contribute something towards the upkeep of "our" seas ? I firmly believe that I should have to buy a saltwater fishing licence for example when I head over to Ireland and catch fish from "their" waters. Granted, I am not taking the fish to eat and I am putting money into their economy by going fishing over there, but what could be wrong with fishing "tourists" having to pay some kind of visiting anglers' licence that went towards increased protection of the fish stocks ? What about more well-trained bailiffs with increased resources that are funded by visiting anglers ? But do I want to be simply paying an Irish tax for going fishing in Ireland ? Nope, not one bit, but I would have no problem walking into a tackle shop or clicking online and buying a licence to fish "their" seas - IF I knew that my money was directly going towards making the fishing even better than it is already and that I felt the benefits quite literally at the end of my fishing rod.

But sea fishing is essentially free and we are where we are. Hand on heart can any of you who have fished for some years now say that you never worry about the future of UK saltwater fishing ? There is simply no getting away from the fact that we are seeing less of some species around and that catching the bigger specimens is getting harder and harder - please understand that I am talking generalisations here and not localised ups and downs. Sure, there are patterns with fish movements that I don't think we will ever understand, but if you have previous experience to go on then we can't get away from the issues we face with regards to the numbers (or lack of) fish that swim in the seas surrounding our glorious coastline. When I come back from a trip like the one I have just had in Ireland I always wonder just how good it could actually be around where I live for example - sure, it can fire from time to time, but the average size of bass is way down when compared to the fish I see in Ireland. I love going bass fishing in Ireland and I need to go for my work and my soul, but make no mistake that I could save a lot of time and money if I could consistently get the same kind of material and experience the same kind of fishing as I could somewhere around me - which I can't.

So what are the options ? I don't pretend to know what to do, but I can't help but draw comparisons to an area like the extensive Florida Keys in southern Florida over in the USA. If you have not been there then you need to know that at times there are almost a ridiculous amount of anglers around and about, but out on the water you rarely feel remotely crowded because of the size of the fishing area. Lots of anglers and high population densities in many parts of the world usually means a shortage of fish, but the place is crawling with fish of all sizes, and as much as I tend to thrive on and indeed specialise for my work in the wilder and more remote parts of the world, I can't help but love fishing in the Keys because it's so well organised and it is a truly world class fishery. But how ?

So what are the differences to here ? Many most likely, but the most simple fact to me is that to fish in US saltwater you need to buy a fishing licence - and woe betide you if you don't and you then get caught. No, nowhere is remotely perfect, but the fishing licence you have to buy to fish in the US has to have some correlation to the numbers and sizes of fish you can often quite readily catch. I don't know the ins and outs of the system, but I do know that the US recreational angling fraternity as a whole is in a different league to us when it comes to funding, political awareness/clout, action and actually getting stuff done for the better of fish stocks and ultimate sport fishing. There is no getting away from the fact that money talks and votes count. I hate that it is like this and I wish we lived in a world where the powers that be did actually give a damn about the natural world, but we are human beings and it's the way it is.

Is it right to potentially have to pay to get better sea fishing ? Nope. Not really, but things are the way they are. One could argue all day against having to potentially pay to go sea fishing and I understand it completely, and I also can't help but feel a slight distaste for the idea of "professional" people potentially getting paid good money to try and make things better - but is this the only option ? The argument is of course why on earth should we be funding people or organisations to try and make a difference when it's free to go sea fishing anyway, but where does that get us in the long run ? We can of course do what we usually tend to do within UK saltwater fishing and continue to bury our heads in the sand, hope that it all goes away and that more and bigger fish will miraculously start coming back into our waters for us to catch. Perhaps we will continue to do this forever, but things could change in so many ways. Food for thought I hope............