Recreational Fishing Licences
I’ve just returned from a fishing trip to St Georges Basin which is one of the New South Wales “recreational fishing havens”. I have been visiting the area for over 30 years and have recently noticed a huge improvement in the fishing and amenities. Many of the upgrades in the area are a result of the introduction of the NSW fishing licence in 2001.
Like many, I was a sceptic when the State government wanted to introduce fishing licences. Isn’t the role of government to:
- manage a sustainable commercial catch
- ensure protection of the marine environment
- assist in developing amenities like major boat ramps, cleaning tables and toilet blocks
- employing public servants to enforce the rules?
I begrudgingly bought my fishing licence just to avoid receiving a fine from NSW DPI (Fisheries).
Like most other parts of the world recreational fishing is a popular pastime in NSW. A University of Wollongong study estimated there are approximately 905,048 anglers in NSW. They spend about $1.625 billion every year on trips, tackle and boating equipment. With children and seniors exempt, about 500,000 anglers hold a fishing licence. A rough estimate on the amount of licence fees collected would be in the order of $15 million per year.
The revenue from licence fees goes into NSW Recreational Fishing Trusts. The Trusts divide the funds to programmes that will benefit the recreational fishing community. Using the St Georges Basin example the projects included:
- buying out commercial fishing licences
- installing artificial reefs
- increasing patrols by fisheries offices and
- improving facilities at boat ramps.
Other investments the Trusts make include restocking programmes, habitat protection, education and research. From my own experience these investments have improved the quality of fishing available. The size, quantity and diversity of fish available greatly improved.
I see the Fishing Licence Fee to have achieved 3 other positive outcomes. It has made recreational fishing a quantifiable group based on the number of licences sold. Secondly, it created a source of sustainable income allowing larger-scale projects to be undertaken without having to compete with other interest groups seeking government funding (commercial fishermen, greens etc). Finally, it has made fishing much more prominent with improvements to local facilities, education programs and positive publicity improving the profile of the sport. These positive outcomes are also supported by increased political representation for anglers.
After seeing how successful it has been I just wonder why other community groups don’t follow this positive model. As an example, there was a huge uproar amongst cyclists in NSW at the suggestion of introducing a cycling licence. It reminded me of when the prospect of a fishing licence was first raised and the opposition it faced. In an environment with more interest groups fighting for limited government resources are licence fees the way of the future?