Major Fisheries Act
Fisheries law has been evolving for hundreds of years. Legendary monarchs such as Henry VIII and Elizabeth I had quite an influence on early fisheries legislation.
In more modern times, the Labour government under the leadership of Harold Wilson introduced the Salmon & Freshwater Fisheries Act in 1975. Section 35 (subsection 2) allowed holders of a rod licence to require another angler to show his/her licence and to give his/her name and address. Failure to produce a licence was an offence. This was a very useful tool for angling clubs and fisheries, particularly for fishery and club bailiffs or water-keepers.
Changes in the law in 2009
However, Section 220 (subsection 8) of the Marine and Coastal Access Act (2009) removed this authority, limiting it to Environment Agency enforcement officers and police officers only, by amending the Salmon and Freshwater Fisheries Act to omit Section 35, Subsection 2. This now means that angling club water keepers have no legal power to ask to see evidence that fellow anglers are in possession of a valid rod licence.
Club rules and rod licences
Some angling clubs have it written into their rules that full or temporary members must possess a rod licence. It should be noted that should an angler refuse to show their rod licence to an authorised club official (assuming that official is not an EA bailiff or police officer) they have not committed an offence under the Salmon & Freshwater Fisheries Act.
However, they are certainly at risk of internal disciplinary proceedings for failing to adhere to club rules in the event of refusing to show said rod licence. This could lead to them being expelled from the fishery or club should the constitution or fishery rules permit it. There is nothing preventing the club bailiff reporting a suspected offence to the Environment Agency or Natural Resources Wales either, providing they feel it is safe and appropriate to do so.
Declining rod licence sales in the news again
The past several years has seen a declining trend in rod licence sales. From a modern-day peak around 10 years ago, the number individual anglers purchasing a licence is down by over a third. Some observers argue that there is currently insufficient enforcement which could explain in part the decline. On a positive note, initiatives such as our own Let's Fish! and similar programmes run by the various partners in the new National Angling Strategy should start to reverse or at least stabilise the current sales situation. The Angling Trades Association also recognises the issue and held an interesting workshop for members which was exceptionally well attended. It will be interesting to see whether positive initiates develop from this.