Caught in a net of Brussels red tape

EU bureaucrats are trying to get their hooks into sea anglers. Chris Benfield reports.

A proposal which could mean all recreational sea anglers reporting their luck to Brussels is sending a tremor of concern along European coastlines.

The anglers and their supply businesses fear that party fishing boats, dinghies, millionaires' yachts and even individual canoes, could be taxed like ocean-going trawlers in the name of conservation, and the lone fisherman on the rocks might have to fill in a form declaring his catch.

Having read a draft proposal on the subject from the European civil service, Richard Ferr, director for sea-angling at the Angling Trust – a new united political front created by a merger of several significant angling organisations – says it addresses some worthwhile issues but has the potential to be the next EU bureaucracy nightmare.

Mr Ferr, who is also still chairman of the National Federation of Sea Anglers (NFSA), says: "It would be a monstrous and inevitably chaotic intrusion of policing into the sport of a million men, women and children, in England and Wales alone."

He says the proposal goes as far as blurring the distinction between vessels and a beach angler's "mark" and politicians should

take heed of the warning message they got when they suggested a coastal fishing licence for all.

He said the idea had appeared out of nowhere and its implications should be made public while Defra was still officially looking for reaction.

Mr Ferr said his organisations agreed that a more precise definition of recreational angling was needed, because it varies enormously between EU countries.

Some countries say anglers who used nets and sold their fish were recreational anglers. In the UK, the term refers to those who fished with a line and hooks and only kept fish for their own consumption.

The Angling Trust and the NFSA were "generally in favour of increased data on recreational angling" but there was no mechanism capable of administering and policing the proposed EU scheme. Trying to collect data from thousands of private boats and individual anglers would only cause problems and cost.

Mr Ferr has told Defra in an initial response: "We are confident – but recognise

the need for hard data to support it – that the mortality on managed fish stocks caused by recreational angling is negligible, with the possible exception of bass."

He said monitoring recreational catches would be "a massive step" and should not be contemplated until the impact of angling on fish stocks had been thoroughly assessed.

Philip Davies, Conservative MP for Shipley, said: "This is more meddling and interfering from Brussels which is neither necessary or desired."

A Defra official says that the proposals concerned only "stocks subject to recovery measures – cod, hake, North Sea sole and plaice, Western Channel sole and deep sea species".

He said: "The Commission's proposal is very detailed and the proposal to control recreational angling is just one of a number which we need to examine carefully. But we support the need for a new control regime which addresses shortcomings identified by the European Court of Auditors."

The Angling Trust, which became operational this week, is the result of a merger between six recreational angling

bodies: the National Federation of Sea Anglers; the National Federation of Anglers; the Anglers' Conservation Association, now renamed Fish Legal; the National Association of Fisheries and Angling Consultatives; the Specialist Anglers Alliance; and the Fisheries and Angling Conservation Trust. See www.anglingtrust.net.

THE EUROPEAN PROPOSAL

The European civil service has produced a "proposal" that says there is too much guesswork involved in estimating what is happening to fish stocks and closer monitoring might

mean interfering with the tolerant definitions of "recreational angling" in coastal communities.

The proposal suggests:

1. Recreational fisheries on a vessel in Community waters on a stock subject to a multiannual plan shall be subject to an authorisation for that vessel issued by the flag member state.

2. Catches in recreational fisheries on stocks subject to a multiannual plan shall be registered by the flag member state.

3. Catches of species subject to a multiannual plan by recreational fisheries shall be

counted against the relevant quotas of the flag member state.

The member states concerned shall

establish a share from such quotas to be used exclusively for the purpose of recreational fisheries.

4. The marketing of catches from a recreational fishery

shall be prohibited except for philanthropic purposes.