The European Fishing Tackle Trade Association (EFTTA) today urged governments across Europe to think carefully before introducing sea fishing licences, after it was revealed that the introduction of a licence scheme in Portugal has had a catastrophic effect on tackle sales in the country.
The official trade body, EFTTA, which represents almost 300 manufacturers and wholesalers, warned that the widespread adoption of sea angling licences â€“ which is due to be considered in a number of European countries - could damage the 25 billion euros generated in socio-economic value by recreational fishermen across Europe.
Sea anglers in Portugal have been forced to buy a licence to fish since January, wiping out as much as 60% off tackle sales. And tackle trade companies and fishermen have been angered even more by the fact that 50% of revenue collected by the Portuguese government from the 12 Euro land licence and 60 Euro boat licence is being put towards a compensation fund for commercial fishermen.
EFTTA President, Gregg Holloway, said: "We do not feel that sea licences for recreational fishermen are a bad thing if the money raised by those licences is put back into improving fishing habitats, conservation and better and more access to fishing waters for anglers.
"But the sea angling licence introduced in Portugal on January 1st does none of this. On the contrary, the licence takes money out of anglers' pockets, giving nothing back that is needed and wished for by the recreational anglers and tackle trade."
EFTTA is embarking on a concerted campaign of lobbying the Portuguese government to change the new law, which also saw sea fishing banned from many coastal areas including beaches, harbours and piers favoured by anglers.
EFTTA has also launched an online petition called â€˜EFTTA Campaign Against Unfair Sea Fishing Taxes' which can be signed at www.ipetitions.com/petition/eftta-licences/ and is urging all sea anglers across Europe to sign up.
Before this new law was put into force, Portugal had between 750,000 and 1 million sea anglers. EFTTA now fears a dramatic reduction in sea angling participation in the country due to this 'ill-thought law'.
Added Mr Holloway: "It is a proven fact that sportfishing and recreational angling in many cases provides substantial revenue to the local economy, by anglers purchasing equipment, food, drink and accommodation. Europe's 25 million anglers generate some 25 billion euros in socio-economic value to the European societies, every year.
"It only makes matters worse that the same new law denies anglers access to a range of areas where they used to fish. This can only decrease the participation in angling and sportfishing in Portugal. Is this really what the law makers wanted?"
â€œPortugal used to be a preferred venue for sea angling tourists from other countries. We can only guess at how much this has already hurt and could hurt the Portuguese rural communities who depend on angling tourism going forward
EFTTA has asked the Portuguese administration for the total sales of angling fishing licences, but the number cannot be given over the phone. EFTTA has now sent a formal request in writing and intends to publish it as soon as it is available.
The Portuguese situation has caused ripples throughout the European fishing tackle trade.
Aku Valta of Rapala, the world's leading lure manufacturer, based in Finland, said: "If what I have read proves to be true, it is a major blow to recreational salt water fishermen all around Europe. It makes me really worry, not only about the Portuguese sport fishermen, but also about those hundreds or thousands of people who make their living out of recreational fishing there".
Sea fishing licences already operate in Spain, while UK ministers are proposing charges to cover beach anglers, boat fishing and charter trips, with a new Bill scheduled for 2009.
This would overturn a British tradition enshrined in common law nearly 800 years ago. A public right to fish dates to the Digest of Justinian, a Byzantine legal codification, in the sixth century AD.