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Parliamentary Debate - Licences and Bass MLS

Apr 20,2007 SACN

Yesterday in Parliament there was an adjourment debate on the Marine Environment, including discussion of rod licenses for sea anglers and the bass mls size increase proposals.

The full Hansard record is available at:


And a Video archive will be available for 28 days at:


Below is some relevant extracts from the full Hansard Record


Bill Wiggins (Conservative Shadow Fisheries Minister)

On fishing and angling, concerns have been raised about the implications of the White Paper for recreational sea anglers. Recreational sea angling is marvellous.

It is also estimated to generate at least £538 million a year for the economy in England and Wales.

More than 1 million households have at least one member who goes fishing at least annually.

These proposals could put the economic and social side of angling in jeopardy because of the planned £12 million to be raised through licensing fees.

Recreational angers are responsible people. What benefits would they receive?

They already value the marine environment and want to do their part to protect it for themselves and others.

It would be an excessive burden to expect them to bear the brunt of the costs when others may be causing the majority of the damage.

Any licensing system would have to be followed up, as recommended by the Bradley review, with measures to increase the weight given to anglers' requirements.

Anglers should not be penalised while there has been little development on reforming other fisheries policies, such as the Minister's recent U-turn on the minimum landing size for bass.

Ben Bradshaw (Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

Does the hon. Gentleman support the increase in the minimum landing size for bass?

Bill Wiggin (Leominster, Conservative)

The Minister has a statutory instrument on that and he will have to see whether we pray against it or not.

Let me elaborate a little on that.

Perhaps it was unnecessarily catty of me.

The Minister promised something that the anglers felt would be beneficial, but then withdrew that promise.

So he deserves more of a bad time than he has had.

However, I also question whether the minimum landing size is the most effective way of improving the size of bass that fishermen can catch, or whether the tackle and gear that they use would be a more useful way of dealing with it.

Martin Salter (Reading West, Labour)

I cannot resist coming in on the lack of clarity in Her Majesty's Opposition's approach to the minimum landing size for bass.

Does the hon. Gentleman honestly think that there is an environmental argument that bass stocks will thrive if we allow people to remove bass at a size before they have reached their optimum spawning potential?

Surely that is scientific nonsense and he should follow science, as of course should the Minister.

Bill Wiggin (Leominster, Conservative)

The hon. Gentleman is not worried about the Government and he is probably wise not to worry about them.

He has put his finger on one of the fundamental problems, which is whether the landing size was right.

The unfairness element should not be forgotten either—if French boats fishing 12 miles offshore are catching far smaller bass than the ones that our fishermen are discarding, the whole economic and environmental advantage is lost.

In some respects the Minister was right to withdraw his change to the bass minimum landing size, but I am not sure that he should ever have started it running in the first place.

Martin Salter (Reading West, Labour)

It is always a great privilege to be called to speak on any occasion, but particularly so for me today, which is my birthday—[Hon. Members: "Ah".] Clearly, the marine environment was a subject close to my wife's heart when she presented me with a birthday present at 7.30 this morning.

It was a book, "Salmon Fishing in the Yemen"—an iconic study of an interesting project, which some of my colleagues will recognise as a literary masterpiece.

It was a welcome birthday present and I intend to continue the same theme of the marine environment in my speech.

I support much of the marine White Paper, which I and many colleagues on both sides of the House have long campaigned for.

I particularly want to deal with measures to protect the marine environment, to improve fish stocks, to stop the over-exploitation of our inshore waters and, of course and inevitably, I want to extol the benefits of recreational sea angling.

I also want to sound a note of caution for the Government in respect of any attempts to introduce a sea angling licence and deal with the preconditions necessary to make such a licence acceptable to the recreational sea angling sector.

I should also declare that, from time to time, I advise the Minister for Sport and his colleagues on angling matters.

I am particularly grateful for the guidance, support and assistance of people such as Richard Ferre, chairman of the National Federation of Sea Anglers, John Leballeur, chairman of the Bass Anglers Sportsfishing Society, and Leon Roskilly of the Sea Anglers Conservation Network.

The marine environment is a precious resource and we all have a duty to protect it, to help it develop and to help to sustain it.

I very much echo the comments of the hon. Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Randall). Uxbridge, like Reading, does not have a lot of coast, although as global warming and climate change continue, we may both have more than we want. As the hon. Gentleman said, we all have the right to take an interest in and to comment on the marine environment and we all have a duty to protect it.

The Labour party manifesto of 2005 included a commitment to a marine Act to
"introduce a new framework for the seas based on marine spatial planning that balances conservation, energy and resource needs.

To obtain best value from different uses of our valuable marine resources, we must maintain and protect the ecosystems on which they depend."

Before that, the strategy unit in Downing street produced marine stewardship reports, the first of which was entitled "Safeguarding our Seas".

Again, it shared this vision of clean, healthy, safe, productive and biologically diverse ocean and seas around our coasts. Clearly, there is political commitment and fine words, which we need to turn into practice.

I believe that the marine White Paper, "A Sea Change", is a definitive document, which points the way forward for introducing a new framework for managing the seas.

The Minister in his contribution drew attention to the alarming decline in fish stocks globally.

Some 25 per cent. of all species are depleted, or, in other words, at risk, and 52 per cent. are fully exploited.

No one wants to see a collapse in fish stocks, as happened—this was referred to earlier—on the Grand Banks in Newfoundland, which was once one of the world's finest cod fisheries.

That collapse, which was a result of greed, commercial exploitation and short-sightedness by the commercial sector, had a devastating impact on the fisheries and fishing communities that depended on the Grand Banks.

They have still not recovered, despite stringent and vigorous efforts by the US and Canadian Governments.

I sometimes despair at the short-sighted approach of a number of those in the commercial sector, who set their faces against every attempt to introduce sensible conservation measures to ensure a sustainable fishery.

It was rather regrettable—all Members will share my sadness on reading the press reports—that not only was the president of the National Federation of Fishermen's Organisations in court a while ago for breaches of quota and submitting false returns, but so was the chairman of that organisation.

That organisation will quite virulently attack the Minister and any other Member who stands up in the House and has the courage and foresight to put forward arguments in favour of the conservation of marine species.

Perhaps the NFFO needs to put its own house in order before rushing to make judgments.

Coming back to the worrying statistics that the Minister shared with us, it is simply not sustainable to have 70 per cent. of global fish stocks either depleted or fully exploited.

The marine Bill, or most of it, will be particularly welcome for recreational sea anglers.

In particular, they will welcome the commitment to establish marine conservation zones in order to aid the recovery of rare or threatened species, and to protect spawning grounds, areas where marine species gather and are vulnerable to commercial exploitation, and, quite rightly, features of particular geographic interest.

They welcome the proposed reform of sea fisheries committees.

The committees have not had sufficient representation from the recreational sea angling sector.

Recreational sea anglers especially welcome the strengthening of enforcement powers to tackle the abuse of conservation measures and widespread illegal fishing, including, in particular, coastal netting.

Currently, the sea fishery committee that covers the Essex and Kent area and is responsible for hundreds of miles of coastline has just two fishery protection vehicles—covering all that coastline, all the estuaries, and all the sea out to the 6 mile limit.

If our fisheries are to be sustainable and enhanced, they need better protection. There is a resource implication, but there is also a legislative argument to be borne in mind.

I want to turn to the benefits of recreational sea angling.

Why should anybody worry about the recreational sector? Why should any politician worry about it?

Well, there are a million people involved, and they vote.

That is probably a good reason.

The hon. Member for Leominster (Bill Wiggin) rightly drew attention to the fact that the sector is worth £538 million in England and Wales alone and makes a contribution to the UK economy of £1.3 billion annually.

In employment terms, there are about 20,000 people involved in the recreational sea angling sector alone.

A healthy and vibrant recreational sea angling sector provides a huge economic benefit from tourism as well as social benefits.

That compares fairly favourably with the commercial sector, which sucks up about £90 million in Government support, which equates to something like £10,000 per full-time fisherman.

I do not begrudge that support, but, financially, we need to put both sides of the argument.

There is talk of introducing a sea licence.

People need to bear it in mind that commercial licences are issued free of charge to trawlers and boats for commercial fishing.

They are then sold on.

How I would love it if the £24 that I paid for a freshwater rod licence enabled me to be part of a private club.

I could then sell the licence on in 20 years to my children or grandchildren, if I have any, for £5,000, £6,000, £10,000 or £15,000.

That is what happens at the moment.

There is no revenue stream from the issuing of commercial rod licences to fund the enforcement and management measures that we need.

The licences are sold on from father to son and from friend to colleague.

That is not a modern, 21st-century regime, so the situation needs to be resolved.
I can do no better than to cite a quote received by my colleague John Leballeur from the Bass Anglers Sportfishing Society:

"Commercial licences to exploit the common public natural fishery resource for profit were handed out completely free of charge".

It continues:

"The licence for my commercial fishing boat was handed out...in 1992.

All I had to do was to provide the local MAFF office with some evidence to show that fish were being sold.

Those licences now change hands for substantial sums.

Even the licence for my miniscule under 6 metre boat is worth £5K on the open market—and it cost me nothing!

It really is a bit rich, after commercial over fishing has substantively degraded the public fish stocks and consequently degraded the recreational sea angling experience, to ask anglers to pay for a licence when others do not do so".

I hope that the Minister will bear those representations in mind.

Let us consider the thorny issue of licences for sea anglers.

If I were to go trout or salmon fishing, I would pay a substantial amount for a rod licence, as would be the case if I were to go freshwater fishing or coarse fishing.

Ironically, the licence is one of the more popular taxes.

When the former Leader of the Opposition proposed getting rid of the freshwater licence, there was a howl of opposition because anglers are not stupid.

Freshwater anglers realise that no Government will fund the £15 million for fisheries work and the enforcement functions of the Environment Agency through any other method, and certainly not with a direct Treasury grant.

The proposal was thus quietly dropped.

The Government have probably gone a bit further in the White Paper than the commitments that we gave in "Labour's Charter for Angling 2005".

I know these things because I helped to write it —[ Interruption. ] Of course, I was grateful that the Minister endorsed the document.

The charter said:

"Labour agrees that whilst a sea angling rod licence could deliver valuable income the current organisational arrangements are not in place ... which might make a licence acceptable to recreational sea anglers ... Labour acknowledges the arguments put forward by the National Federation of Sea Anglers ... that many of the following actions would need to take place alongside the introduction of a sea angling rod licence ... The proper enforcement of regulations and minimum landing sizes ... The replacement of the Sea Fishery Committees with an agency charged with marine ecology management—possibly by extending the responsibilities of the E.A ... Or, vastly improved representation by sea anglers, ... on reformed Sea Fisheries Committees."

The document also said that we would need
"Restrictions on gill nets in inshore waters and around some wreck fishing grounds ... The creation of recreational sea fisheries where commercial fishing is excluded ... Increased protection for fish stocks from over exploitation.
However, there is a balance that needs to be struck since measures necessary to improve fish stocks for recreational sea angling would also require enforcement. Any enforcement action would require a revenue stream, some of which could come from ... a sea rod licence."

I do not think that the recreational sea angling sector is wholly hostile to the idea of a rod licence.

However, as other hon. Members have said, given the problems that sea anglers have faced for a long time, which have been caused by other sectors and our collective failure to manage this precious marine resource, they are entitled to see some improvements first.

I would urge all hon. Members, in a cross-party spirit, to go ahead with the power to create a sea rod licence.

However, we should be very clear about the pre-conditions and circumstances under which such a licence would be introduced.

Sea anglers have to recognise that the freshwater sector is better able to make demands of the Government by virtue of paying for a licence and having an automatic involvement in stakeholder groups and other representative bodies.

Many members of the sea angling sector realise that "no pay, no say" is, in part, a problem for that sector.

Sea angling licences exist in many other countries, in particular the United States.

Recreational sea anglers in this country must also realise that the enforcement of conservation measures to protect the fish that they wish to catch costs money and that revenue streams need to be created.

However, we need to give them confidence that the marine Bill that will follow from the excellent marine White Paper will put measures in place to protect fish stocks.

I shall conclude with a few final thoughts.

Why do we not go further than the provisions in the marine Bill and create a golden mile—an area, let us say for argument's sake, a mile from our coast, free of commercial exploitation and inshore netting, where only recreational sea angling is permitted?

That approach has already been adopted in Yorkshire and the north-east and is producing tremendous results, not just for the recreational sea angling sector, but for commercial fishermen, who are enjoying better fishing as a result of better and more productive spawning grounds.

If we protect that area, it feeds the food chain, supports spawning and recruitment, and increases biodiversity.

John Randall (Uxbridge, Conservative)

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman.

He is far more expert on the subject than I am, but what about shellfish?

Does it not live within that mile, and would his proposal not kill off the shellfish industry?

Martin Salter (Reading West, Labour)

It is entirely possible to exclude shellfish from other forms of fishing in the area.

That may be an issue that the Minister wants to refer to when he sums up.

The vast majority of recreational sea angling takes place within a mile of the shore. In fact, it takes place very close to the shore, or actually from the shore.

Why do we not go further than the Minister suggests on the bass minimum landing size?

The bass is a wonderful sports fish species.

It can be caught by bait fishing, by spinning and by fly fishing, and it is wonderful to eat.

People will spend a lot of money to come to communities that enjoy good bass fishing or have good bass fishing grounds.

We should not be arguing about 40 cm; 42 cm is the better size for protecting bass stocks, in terms of the optimum spawning size.

We should be moving as quickly as possible to 45 cm, as the recreational sea angling community have argued.

I urge the Minister to be bold when it comes to protecting our fish stocks, to be proud of the White Paper, and to be careful with the introduction of the sea rod licence.

If he does all that, he will have the enduring support of the recreational sea angling community, and he will write himself at least a footnote in history.

Ben Bradshaw (Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

My hon. Friend the Member for Reading, West (Martin Salter) and one or two others raised the possibility of charging for recreational sea angling licences.

As he rightly acknowledged, that is not a new idea.

Indeed, it was included in the wonderful manifesto for anglers that he helped to write at the time of the last election.

As he also rightly pointed out, there is an argument, for which there is support in the angling community, that just as the freshwater angling, or rod, licence has delivered conservation benefits in our rivers and lakes for anglers—they recognise that and it is why the rod licence is popular—there is potential to do the same in the marine area.

However, I take his point that there must be a quid pro quo.

There is a duty on us in government and us as legislators to deliver the benefits that the sea angling community would like to see if it is to be asked to contribute.

I would ask—this is really a philosophical point, which we try to tease out in the White Paper—whom we expect to pay in future for the management of our marine environment.

Should it be the taxpayer, who already makes a significant contribution—my hon. Friend mentioned the cost of managing the commercial fishing sector—or should it be those sectors, not just fishermen, commercial and recreational, but companies that extract minerals and so on, that benefit financially from the marine environment?

We think that there is a case for a balance to be struck.

There is also a case for making the argument that if we give people rights over a part of our environment, they also have a responsibility to make a contribution.

I hope that that philosophy can be shared throughout the House.

My hon. Friend also called for the modernisation of sea fisheries committees.

He is absolutely right. That is part of the White Paper, as other hon. Members mentioned.


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comment Comments (1 posted) 
  • I would like to ask Mr Salter where he gets his info on regarding how the Golden Mile is working in Yorkshire as I quite often see boats pair trawling less than 1000 metres from the shore around Scarborough, Filey Brig and Bempton/ flamborough cliffs. I would like to mention to Ben Bradshaw that when I asked my local NESFC if it was possible to have a RSA sub committee attached to this committee I was told No without any explanations why
(Posted on April 28, 2007, 9:53 pm Gwyn Davies)

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