Millions of Europe's amateur sea anglers could see their sport controlled by quotas, logbooks and licences as EU regulators plan to crack down on fishing activity they say is damaging the recovery of threatened species.
The European Commission, the EU executive, says there is no reason for anglers to panic since its draft law would only apply to sea anglers catching certain vulnerable species: not to shore fishing, wading or fishing from a rowing boat, canoe or beach.
It wants to close a loophole that allows sea anglers to take overexploited fish such as cod and bluefin tuna "off limits" to commercial fishermen due to quotas and other controls.
"You're doing more damage to the fishery by allowing the national quota and then allowing anglers to pull out even more fish on top of that," one Commission official said.
Commission experts believe recreational fishing has now become so big in the EU that anglers can have a significant impact on the populations of endangered species.
But the anglers' concerns stem from a small article buried inside a hefty 87-page draft EU law that says countries should allocate some of the commercial fishing quotas to anglers.
EU reporting of data for recreational fisheries is known to be patchy. Anglers say very few reliable figures are available and wonder how the Commission can justify its proposed controls.
"There is no tangible evidence, in UK waters, about the impact we have on fish stocks. All we have is anecdotal evidence," Richard Ferre, board member of the UK's National Federation of Sea Anglers, told Reuters.
"It's not an unreasonable expectation when you're managing fish stocks that people should know the impact that anglers have on fish ... When you know what we do, then is the time to decide if the impact is so great you should do something about it."
Despite that, the Commission says it knows that in Germany, for example, up to 50 per cent of the Baltic Sea cod quota is taken by recreational anglers. In Italy, they take 20 per cent of the country's bluefin tuna quota, it says.
Numbers of active anglers -- sea anglers, shore anglers and inland -- across the EU are far from clear but thought to total at least 20 million. The sport is particularly popular in Britain, France, Germany, Sweden, Finland and the Netherlands.
Another problem, diplomats say, is that the draft law is far from clear about what recreational fishing actually is, since it varies so much by country. Some anglers fish with rods, lines and hooks; others can be local artisans using nets and pots.