Why don’t you pay?

Of the many threads to the debate between canoeists and anglers, one of the most common is the suggestion that anglers pay, while canoeists do not. “Why should canoeing be allowed on rivers when you won’t pay your way?” After all, anglers pay for a rod licence from the Environment Agency, and many (but by no means all) stretches of river have their angling rights bought or rented by fishing clubs – with the most choice locations fetching £1000s a year. So at first it seems like a reasonable question to ask.

But let’s have a look at the charge in more detail.

We pay a licence – why don’t you?

Let’s start with the Rod Licence – as it’s the only directly comparable aspect of what ‘canoeists pay’ vs what ‘anglers pay’. It is a legal requirement for all anglers to hold a rod licence to be able to fish – and an adult annual licence starts at £27 (a salmon licence however is a lot more at £72). So, if an angler was to stick to spots across the country where fishing is free (such as on Trent Embankment in Nottingham), £27 would be all they need to pay. Not many anglers realise that canoeists also pay a licence on the managed waterway network (canals and canalised rivers). The fees vary from one navigation authority to another, but as examples an annual licence for all the Canal & River Trust’s waterways costs £45, while it’s £35 for a Thames-only licence from the Environment Agency. Canoeists can get access to almost all managed waterways as British Canoeing members, which costs £45 a year. So, in terms of the actual licence, it is actually cheaper, and potentially covering a lot more of the country, to hold an angling licence than it is a canoeing licence.

Of course on many rivers there is no Navigation Authority and so no licence requirement for canoeists (although usually highly diputed Rights of Navigation). However, on these rivers the canoeist also gets nothing back (the River Wye being the notable exception to this rule, but for specific reasons). No put-in points or portages are provided. The river is not maintained for use (with blockages such as trees removed for example). Compare this with the money the Environment Agency reinvests into angling through the provision of it’s fishery services and it’s clear anglers are getting very specific benefits for their licence fees.

So, at its basic level:

  • Cost of canoeing per year, where a licence is required, nationally – £45
  • Cost of fishing per year, where a licence is required, nationally – £27

Ah – but many anglers pay large sums of money in club fees to access some waterways – canoeists don’t give the landowner anything!

Well, maybe, in many cases. However, club fees are dictated by the level of prestige for certain angling locations or clubs. And the actually can be very cheap – for example the Waterways Explorer scheme from Canal & River Trust only costs £20 a year, but gives access to a large network of angling locations across England. Added to the licence fee this still only comes to £47 a year – only £2 more than canoeists pay.

But what services are canoeists actually requiring from landowners for this? Nothing, essentially. They simply float on past. Anglers and their clubs pay anything from relatively small sums for some stretches of river up to eye-watering sums for others. However, in return for this the anglers are getting a variety of services that canoeists simply don’t get, need or want. This includes:

  • The right to drive onto, park, and occupy on private land to fish;
  • The ability to install angling pegs – platforms, steps and other infrastructure on private land;
  • Potentially installing new paths and drives to access remote pegs;
  • The exclusive right to fish on specific stretches of river/lakes.

Where canoeists do need to use land, for example at the points where they park and launch, they do also usually pay. This can be in the form of car parking fees, or launching fees for put-in points on private land. But comparing an activity which progresses down the river with one that operates at fixed points along it is not a fair comparison. Its akin to shooting participants challenging walkers for not paying to access Public Footpaths (yes, I know!).

This isn’t to accept that angling clubs and their members do a great amount to help look after their landlord’s land – and also contribute a great deal to maintaining the river environment too. However, it does show that drawing comparisons between the two sports is at best flawed, and in some cases sees canoeists actually paying more than anglers.

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