Sales of fishing tackle have collapsed in Portugal following the introduction of the new legislation on sea fishing and the requirement for sea fishing licences. After years of heavy lobbying, the commercial fishermen have finally achieved their goal: To eliminate the competition by discouraging the Portuguese sea-fishermen from indulging in their favourite sport, thus guaranteeing so they believe; the maintenance of the fish stocks for their own profit.
As of 1st January 2007, Sea Fishing licenses are compulsory in Portugal, accompanied by a 10Kg bag limit.
The annual national licence per angler for fishing from the land costs 12 Euros a year, from a boat 60 Euros a year. It is interesting to note that 50% of the cash generated by the sales of the licenses will go to a new compensation fund for COMMERCIAL FISHERMEN, so will 60% of the fines imposed on defaulting recreational fishermen.
Fishing has been banned in many coastal areas: In harbours, piers, contracted beaches (night and day) and the local maritime police are having a ball hunting for fines that can reach 250 euros if you happen to fish in the wrong place (or in the place you have fished for the last 20 years of your life).
As a result of this violation of civil liberties, the sales of Fishing Tackle have collapsed in a market that is 80% orientated towards sea fishing and renowned for the quality of its coastal waters.
The Portuguese recreational fishermen remain stunned in a state of desperation following the application of this new law. Although many organisations attempted to lobby the content while the project was being elaborated, none of their remarks were upheld, and the law has been promulgated as per the commercial fishermen’s requests.
I recently spoke to the President of the Portuguese Fishing Federation who was elaborate in his criticism of the new law: He pictured his dismay with the following story: One of his co-workers in the bank, just recently went for his annual summer vacation in a small costal town on the western coast. This old gentleman had rented a house for the last 20 years in a town where he spent everyday fishing from a local spot, at the mouth of a river together with his fishing buddies. Fishing Sea Bass from that spot was his summer social and sporting activity and he usually looked forward all year for the good times to come.
This year, as he went to his spot on the first day of his holidays, he was told by his friends that they could not fish there anymore, that fishing was now forbidden and that a fine of 250 euros awaited anyone foolish enough to attempt to cast a line from that area. “Oh well”, said he, I shall therefore go and fish off the pier. “No” said his friends, “it’s also forbidden from the pier”.
Two days later, the President of the Portuguese Sea Fishing Federation was surprised to see his friend back to work. He had been so disgusted with the situation altogether that he had cancelled his holidays and returned back to Lisbon.
Not one penny of the cash generated from the sale of the licences is being reverted back to the activity.
The purchase of licences by tourists is impaired by the fact that licences are to be obtained from the local cash machines, which implies the need of a Portuguese cash card and a Portuguese ID card. Tourists who want a licence, have to go an queue at the local DGPA (Direcção-Geral das Pescas e Aquicultura) office and face the Portuguese bureaucracy.
This is a gross mistake as millions of tourists come to Portugal every year and many of these enjoyed fishing in the sea in the past, I doubt whether any of these will ever come back again, following this kind of disappointment.
The results on the sales of Tackle in the first semester have been absolutely disastrous: Importers and wholesalers are having to cope with a slump of 30 to 40% of their sales of sea fishing tackle and local coastal shops are announcing a decrease of up to 60%.
The result is a dramatic strain on the whole Portuguese Fishing Tackle market, accompanied by enormous cash flow problems as the tackle shops pain to pay for their bills.
The damage can already be viewed as long term in some very touristic regions such as the Algarve, where the number of fishing spots available has shrunk to a fraction and many are expressing their disgust by giving up fishing altogether.
Fishing is an activity that cannot be classified, it is a passion that lives inside the angler and that can be very much affected adversity and the state of mind. Many anglers in Portugal have been so affected by the new regulations that they are NOT purchasing their licenses and have abandoned fishing temporarily, maybe hoping for a review of the law.
I attempted to obtain the official numbers of the sales of licences from the governmental department in charge of the project, but a lady from the PR department informed me that these were “confidential” and that the person in charge was on holidays. Why there numbers are confidential cannot be justified and can only lead to believe that the sales are so small, that they do not wish to release the statistics. Before implementation of the new law, it was believed by the trade that there were up to 1 million regular sea fishermen in Portugal. How many are presently fishing, well these numbers are “confidential”
I am convinced that the total income from the sales of the licences is presently inferior to the VAT lost from the sales of fishing tackle, not even taking into account the loss of income suffered in the areas where anglers used to go to spend their fishing week-ends or holidays.
Hopefully, positive lobbying will generate some improvements and amendments in the legislation, but the damage will remain and take years to recover.
This situation should serve as an example to other European markets and confirm the need for organised National and European political representation.
As I have mentioned many times in the past, and more recently in the “Manifest for the Future of Recreational Fishing in Europe” that was presented at the last Annual General Meeting of EFTTA in Prague, by Malcolm Gilbert and myself: No-one will take care of the future of our industry, if we don’t take care of it ourselves!