Do I Need A Licence?
Oct 04,2006 00:00 by SACN

It is in the nature of rivers that they flow towards the sea, and fuelled by winter floods, to still flow strongly with freshwater when they finally push out into the sea.

And it is in the nature of tides to ebb and flow, pushing saltwater far up beyond the river’s mouth, especially on those big spring tides.

Saltwater being more dense than freshwater flows beneath the freshwater, and sometimes freshwater fish species can be caught swimming above saltwater species swimming below.

Thin-lipped mullet push far up into freshwater, and flounder amaze many an angler far from the sea, whilst bass will feed on roach amongst crabs and bladderwrack towards the mouth of an estuary where they have followed the heavy freshwater rains as it itself follows the ebb tide far downstream.   

For most anglers it is clear whether they regard themselves as fishing the sea, or are perhaps coarse anglers fishing for freshwater species.

But for many who fish tidal rivers and estuaries, and particularly those that fish for both saltwater and freshwater fish, there is a question.

In a place where bread may be taken by mullet or dace, or a live bait may be taken by a pike or perhaps a large bass, do I need a freshwater rod licence?

Many anglers assume that there must be some line, at some point, which divides freshwater regulations covering freshwater byelaws, licences and close seasons from the greater freedoms enjoyed by those who fish the sea.

Often many believe that a sluice, or lock etc., marking the limit of the tidal water and navigation rights, often demarks freshwater from sea fishing, disregarding that freshwater species may still be encountered many miles downstream, and flounder upstream of such places.

So we decided to ask the Environment Agency exactly where anglers legally stood when fishing the tidal stretches of rivers.

Surprisingly the answer was that it is the species that you are fishing for, not where you are fishing that determines whether freshwater fishing regulations apply or not, and that a freshwater rod licence might be required out to the six mile limit if you are deemed to be fishing for freshwater species.

(And this especially applies if you are fishing for migratory species such as salmon or trout where you will need a game fishing rod licence to catch sea-trout etc)

And it is the bailiff who will determine what you are fishing for, bearing in mind where you are fishing and what tackle you are using.

Given that for some species, the same tackle and baits will catch both freshwater and saltwater fish, particularly when fishing for bass and mullet in a tidal river, it might be advisable to carry a freshwater licence and, when fishing during the coarse fishing close season for rivers, be prepared to show evidence that you are fishing for saltwater species (such as membership of the National mullet Club or BASS).

In some cases, such as Christchurch Harbour, the authorities controlling the fishing will require you to possess a valid freshwater rod licence, whatever species you are targeting.  This is not a legislative requirement, but the rules of the authority controlling fishing in that water.

For clarity, below is the correspondence that we have had, both with the Environment Agency, and with the National Federation of Sea Anglers regarding the particular circumstance of fishing for eels.


A Rod Licence is required when fishing for freshwater fish, eels, Salmon or Sea Trout anywhere in England or Wales and out to 6 miles at sea.

Any angler deemed to be fishing for these whether in marine, tidal or freshwater will need to ensure they are licenced for them, whether or not they have caught.

For enforcement, the Agency will consider whether the angler is fishing at a location and with a method liable to catch these species.

If so they will enforce the licence requirement.


William Fawcett
Environment Agency
Public Enquiries Co-ordinator
Head Office Operations, Executive Office
01454 624411


We the NFSA fought for years on this front, because as you rightly interperet there is no distinction in the Salmon and Freshwater Act 1975 between eels, Anguilla anguilla  a or Conger conger caught in the sea or in fresh water.

However in July 1996 after much pressure from us, the EA secured a piece of legislation which in fact created Excusals from the Licensing of Eel fishing in tidal and Estuarial Waters in England and Wales.

These are predetermined lines set, where suitable, in most estuaries at the High Water Mark but others are at predetermined lines for each river and generally are where the salt water and freshwater meet and we have a list of these.

In practice this means that any angler fishing for eels in the sea will be excused the need for a licence.