I know the subject of paying for what most anglers I am sure feel is their right is a somewhat thorny subject, but I would be interested to know the feelings amongst the readers of this blog. If it's any help, this question I am posing is not because I have heard of anything untoward going on out there - it is simply because the idea of paying for a sea fishing license in the UK is a subject which I can't see going away..............
When I go to say the Florida Keys, we do not pick up a fishing rod and go out fishing until we have gone to a fishing tackle shop and bought the correct fishing license. That's the way it is, and like it or lump it the Keys strikes me as one hell of a well managed recreational fishery, and boy do they have a lot of fish down there. Check out my friend Rodney's latest blog post from there as an example (check here). I travel out there and personally I have no problem in handing money over for a license because to me it's worth every single penny (or cent) to be able to access some outstanding fishing. I can't pretend to be the best informed person there is, but my understanding is that the license I am having to buy over in the US is NOT some stealth tax that does no good for sport fishing. How could any angler object paying for a license when the fishing is so good ? And if you don't buy one over there, then you risk all kind of hell and fury if you get caught. Quite right if you ask me.
But whenever the subject of potentially paying for a sea fishing license in the UK comes up, I would say that for the most part the general feeling is a vociferous NO. My general impression is that we UK saltwater anglers believe that it's our right to fish in our seas. Game and coarse anglers might have to pay for the privilege of going fishing, but surely not us UK sea anglers ? Our seas are ours, our fish are ours to catch, so who has the right to charge us to go fishing ? But can this "right" continue to be free ?
Whatever any of us may or may not think about the potential for a sea fishing license, what I would be fundamentally opposed to is if it were to become just another stealth tax. I am sure that every single angler would agree on that one. But what if by paying for a sea fishing license we gave ourselves the chance of seeing more and bigger fish to catch ?
Or is this just pie in the sky, a dream that is never going to happen ? Let's say that the world is a little more perfect and that a sea fishing license was implemented successfully by an autonomous governing body that ploughed back the money into making our seas much better to go fishing in. Let's say that the next time you were out and saw illegal netting going on that you could call a number and expect to see professional fisheries protection officers swooping in and coming down like a tonne of bricks on the offender. Let's say that the fines and potential prison sentences were so strong that they actually did some good and put the offenders off ever illegally raping the sea ever again. Let's say that by paying for a sea fishing license that sea anglers in the UK end up getting professional representation where it counts, and that this (expensive) professional representation does some good and helps to improve and protect our seas for the future of sport fishing. Let's imagine that commercial fishing was properly for long-term sustainability. Let's imagine that all goes well and in a number of years we actually see more and bigger fish for us and future generations to catch.
Who could possibly object to that ? OK, so the world is not remotely perfect, and of course I understand the argument that the sea is free, and as such sport fishing in it should be free. But can we carry on the way we are ? I am proud to be one of many, many UK sea anglers, but can we keep on burying our heads in the sand and hoping that all the problems miraculously disappear ? I don't know the history of the US saltwater fishing licensing system, but I have heard so much about say the collapse and then subsequent "re-birth" of their awesome striped bass fishery. But a "re-birth" costs money, and it requires drastic measures to make it work. If it proves one thing it's that a fishery can recover if the right, drastic steps are taken, but who helps to pay for those steps to be taken ?
I am not coming down on either side of the fence here. I am categorically not stating that we might need to look at fishing licensing as a means of raising much needed revenue to try and make our sea fishing a whole lot better. I am merely asking a few questions that I hope might generate a bit of healthy and informed discussion. I have no interest at all in this kind of thing - "they'll never get me to pay, it's my right, and anyway, why on earth should I have to pay when the commercial fleets continue to catch all the fish." That never gets us anywhere. It's far too easy to blame everybody but ourselves in life. So for how long can saltwater fishing in the UK continue to be a "free" pastime...........?