Do I need a Licence?
Under Section 27 of the Salmon & Freshwater Fisheries Act, 1975, anyone aged 13 or older in English and Wales must have a valid rod licence to fish in freshwater. Fishing at sea generally does not require a rod licence. Fishing with sea-fishing gear up rivers/tidal estuaries is more complicated. It depends where you are fishing from and if targeting sea fish. If fishing for trout or salmon, it always requires a licence. This article does not cover the laws on poaching and retaining fish caught, which is even more complicated and there are specific rules and regulations for different types of freshwater and saltwater fish.
Since 2018 licences are now free for anglers between ages 13 to 16 years of age, but they must have a valid licence. . Regardless of whether you are fishing on freshwater fishing in rivers, reservoirs, lakes, ponds and canals.
There are two types of licence, depending upon the types of fish that you intend to catch. There are limits/restrictions on what you can catch and whether you must return the fish for example.
If I get caught without a licence?
You always need to carry your rod fishing licence whenever you go fishing or you could end up being prosecuted, even if you are fishing on privately owned land. You must produce your licence if asked to do so by an Environment Agency Bailiff or by any other authorised person. You will be on the hook for a criminal record and/or net yourself a fine of up to £2,500 for fishing without a valid rod fishing licence. That’s not a drop in the ocean.
Every year EA bailiffs check thousands of rod licences and those caught are prosecuted.
If I have a rod licence does that mean I can fish anywhere, anytime?
NO, a rod licence is more akin to a fishing tax that anglers pay to allow them to use their equipment.
A fishing permit would be required as the fishing rights are likely owned or controlled by a fishing club, or third party. Canals for example are mostly owned by the Canal & River Trust
Fishing without permission is a criminal offence under Section 2 of Schedule 1 Theft Act 1968 offence. “A person who unlawfully takes or destroys, or attempts to take or destroy, any fish in water which is private property or in which there is any private right of fishery shall on summary conviction be liable to a fine not exceeding level 5 on the standard scale.” In addition under subsection 3 the court can order the forfeiture of the fishing gear which was being used.
The meaning of ‘Taking or Destroying’ from the Theft Act was decided in the case of Wells v Hardy  and does not mean necessarily carrying of the fish away from the water, but ‘to lay hands upon, to grasp, to seize or capture’. The offender is not required to to be stealing the fish, but the right to the fish. An offence would be still be committed, if the offender had live fish in a keepnet, or if the offender was fishing, but blanked or yet to catch.
So just because there aren’t any signs or anyone collecting fees from the bankside doesn’t mean its free to fish. There are also closed seasons for coarse fishing which applies to all rivers, streams and drains in England but does not apply to most still-waters and canals. Always check the local fishing byelaws.
If you need assistance for any criminal offence then do not hesitate to contact our solicitors at Burton Copeland LLP.
*This article is commentary only and does not constitute legal advice. It should not be a substitute for obtaining your own legal advice.