The short answer to this question is no – sea fishing does not require a licence. However, in many areas the situation is, unfortunately, a lot more complicated. Some fishing marks inland where saltwater and freshwater fishing cross over the licence issue can become unclearwhich can cause a lot of confusion amongst anglers. Read on to find out more about the issues surrounding sea angling and the issue of fishing licences.
Related article: Sea Fishing, Anglers’ Rights and the Magna Carta
Anglers fishing from clear sea fishing marks such as beaches, rock marks, piers and breakwaters have no need at all for any kind of licence (as long as they do not catch and keep certain species – see below). This is clear cut and means the vast majority of sea anglers can fish without worrying about licences at all. However, the issue becomes more complicated further away from the sea. Anglers fishing inland up rivers do not need licences either if they are using sea fishing tackle to target sea fish species within tidal waters (i.e. there is movement of water level with the incoming and outgoing tide). Fishing marks further inland and out of tidal waters may well require a licence and anglers fishing without one will be risking the £2500 fine – even if they claim to be using sea fishing tactics/equipment to target saltwater species. In areas where freshwater anglers are targeting freshwater species side by side with anglers using sea fishing gear to catch sea fish species the issue can become extremely complicated indeed – sometimes there are signs stating that an anglers fishing in an area need licences, often there is not. Anglers unsure about whether then need a licence to fish a particular area should contact the authorities to get advice before they go fishing (ask the local Inshore Fisheries and Conservation Authorities). Licences are organised by the Environment Agency and are available online or from Post Offices around the UK.
Despite anglers not needing a licence there are still restrictions on where anglers can fish from. All piers around the UK are private property. On many piers anglers need to purchase a ticket to fish from them and must observe opening hours, while other ban fishing altogether. Similarly harbours, breakwaters and ports around the UK may ban or restrict angling, and there are a small number of private beaches and marine protected areas which anglers cannot fish, plus councils can bring in their own restrictions. As always it is the responsibility of anglers to check they are permitted to fish from an area.
Restricted Species for Sea Anglers
Although sea fishing does not require a licence all sea fish have a minimum landing size (in order to protect stocks) and several species are protected by law, meaning anglers must return any which are caught. Anglers ignoring these rules can face prosecution if they are caught. For the minimum size limits of UK fish please click this link.
The species listed below have some form of protection under UK law, but please note this list is no exhaustive and anglers should always make sure that they have the right to retain any fish they catch.
Salmon and Trout (Salmo sp.) – These species require a freshwater fishing licence if they are to be retained, regardless of where they are caught. Anglers should not target this species unless they have the appropriate licence and any which are inadvertently caught should be immediately returned.
Silver Eels (Anguilla anguilla) – Protected species due to declining numbers which must be returned alive to the sea if caught by anglers.
Allis Shad (Alosa alosa) and Twaite Shad (Alosa fallax) – Protected under Schedule 5 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981.
Bass (Dicentrarchus labrax) – Restrictions on anglers catching this species have been brought in since 2016 due to declining numbers. Please see the bass article for the current legislation.
Giant Goby (Gobius cobitis) and Couch’s Goby (Gobius couchi) – Protected under Schedule 5 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 due to declining numbers.