Under current UK legislation, it is not possible to apply discrimination when licensing fishing activities – all individuals must be treated equally, and anyone wishing to apply for a licence must be entitled to do so. For this reason, it is not possible to restrict the numbers of individuals collecting species within any area by permitting only a limited number of local residents or members of an organisation to collect.

Conditions may, however, be attached to licences, imposing restrictions on techniques used (e.g. back-filling of holes), bag limits, closed areas, closed seasons, declaration of catches etc. Such licence conditions (including any of the management techniques listed here) must be applied equally and may not actually prevent all bait collection in any one area. The process of applying for and issuing licences enables managers to ensure that all licence holders are informed of current local management issues and requirements. Licence holders infringing these conditions may have their permits rescinded. A certain amount of self-policing by the user group would be possible, if only by ensuring that all bait diggers at a site were aware that a licence was necessary and available.

The owners of the foreshore may license commercial bait diggers, or the placement of crab shelters by any individuals. It is not clear whether holding a licence to a crab shelter provides the licence holder with exclusive rights to take crabs from the shelter, in cases where the landowner has not been able to transfer their own private right to take shellfish to the licensee.

Successful implementation of a shoreline species licensing system requires provision of significant resources for education, administration and enforcement. Licence fees permitted by the relevant government department or indeed desirable to promote compliance will not be sufficient to recover these costs, but similar costs would probably be incurred if other management options are selected.

There is likely to be resistance to the introduction of a limited licensing system for bait collection, were such an approach possible (and this seems unlikely under the current legal system). Criticism of this approach usually includes the potential for abuse of the system because the licences may increase rapidly in value if transferable.

As already noted above, many professional bait collectors and retail outlets are in favour of the introduction of a formal nation-wide licensing system similar to that operated in Maine, USA (see Appendix). Bait collectors would only be permitted to sell to wholesale or retail outlets on production of their licenses. Records of license number, and quantities, origins and types of bait bought and sold would have to be maintained by retail outlets and wholesalers – incidentally making this information available to the social security offices. This would benefit professional bait collectors by putting them on an even footing with the unemployed collectors, who presently have the advantage of working within the ‘black economy’. It would yield small but significant income through licenses and increased reporting of taxable income. Finally, it would benefit the environment, by providing funds for research from license fees, by increasing control over currently unregulated commercial collection activity, and by providing a means of promoting good practice among all commercial collectors.

The introduction of a national licensing system of this sort would probably require new legislation. Introducing a similar system locally, albeit not as comprehensive, may be within the competence of some SAC management groups in those situations where licenses for commercial collection can be issued by foreshore owners or lease-holders.

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