Spare the rod on angling licensing


The Government has been taking soundings among angling organisations on how Inland Fisheries Ireland might manage, fund and protect a valuable national resource. Draft proposals involving an annual charge, an angling register, identity cards and a penalty points system have been produced. The Angling Council of Ireland, representing most angling federations, supports the initiative. But it has been rejected by some trout and pike organisations which are threatening a repeat of the so-called “rod war” of 1987-89.

Most countries operate a licensing system for all forms of angling. It establishes a basic register of fishermen. After that, other charges may apply. Rules dictate where and how many fish may be killed and there are size limits and penalties for illegal behaviour. Salmon licences and conservation rules apply here. But, unlike neighbouring jurisdictions, there is no general register of anglers and little enforcement of regulations.

If a resource is not directly owned and managed, it tends to be ruthlessly exploited. That happens in sea fisheries where international trawlers compete. It also occurs on our great lakes and rivers where selfish trout anglers operate on the basis that: if I don’t kill it, somebody else will. Such a free-for-all has had predictable consequences for fish stocks and for law enforcement.

As happened 25 years ago, raw emotion is driving opposition to change. Earlier this year, the Connacht Angling Council described the proposed annual charge and the introduction of identity cards as “an attack on a traditional way of life”. The language hasn’t changed. But circumstances have. Most experienced anglers accept that water pollution, the impact of invasive species, modern angling practices and over-fishing have greatly reduced stocks. There is disagreement, however, on the need for strict conservation controls and a basic charge. These are not “free” fisheries. They are national treasures that require extensive rehabilitation and protection.