Fishing vessel licence requirements

The licence sets out where you can fish, what you are not allowed to fish and the limits for the stocks you are allowed to fish and land.


Fishing vessels registered in the UK must have a licence to fish for sea fish that will be sold. The purpose of the licensing system is to restrict the size of the UK fleet and control UK fishing opportunities to stay within the quotas under the European Union (EU) Common Fisheries Policy.

There are different types of licence, depending on the length of the vessel, the species fished and the waters the vessel will operate in.

This guide helps you to decide if you need a licence and the type of licence that you need. It also explains that you will have to register your vessel and obtain a licence entitlement before you can apply for a vessel licence.

Do you need a fishing vessel licence?

If your vessel is registered in the UK you must have a licence to fish for sea fish that will be sold. The licence system ensures that the UK does not exceed its yearly quotas under the EU Common Fisheries Policy.

If you fish for sea fish without a licence and sell your catch, you may be prosecuted. You may have to pay a fine of up to £50,000 for each offence and forfeit your gear and fish.

No new licences are being issued so you will have to obtain a licence entitlement before you can apply for a licence.

Vessels that require a licence

There are some exceptions, but generally you need a licence to be able to sell any of your catch. This is the case even if you are just selling what you don’t want for yourself to friends or a fishmonger.

There are different types of licence, depending on where you are going to fish. You will need:

  • a domestic licence if you are only going to fish in UK and EU waters
  • an external licence if you are going to fish outside UK and EU waters

Vessels that don’t require a licence

You don’t need a licence if:

  • you only fish for salmon or migratory trout - contact the Environment Agency for more information
  • your vessel is 10 metres or less in length and you’re only going to fish for common eels
  • you only fish within the 12 nautical mile limits around Jersey, Guernsey or the Isle of Man - contact the relevant authority for advice about their licensing requirements
  • you only use your vessel for carrying anglers who are fishing for pleasure

Transfer of vessels and/or licences from outside the MMO

Before entering into financial commitments, you are strongly advised to contact your local MMO office when considering buying a vessel or licence entitlement from outside the MMO area.

The following list is not exhaustive but may indicate issues you are advised to check with us:

  • that you have sufficient FQAs to enter the English non-sector (mainly for over ten metre vessels); a licence entitlement that was previously used to licence a vessel in the non-sector outside England will not automatically be permitted to enter the English non-sector
  • that your vessel will be licensed with sufficient Days at Sea eligibility (for over ten metre vessels); to enable your proposed fishing gear to be used in the areas you wish to be active
  • that your vessel will be licensed with a full ten metre and under licence and that the licence (or any of its donor licences) have not been capped previously (this applies to vessels of ten metre and under in length)

If you have purchased a vessel or entitlement without checking with us first we may be unable to licence your vessel the way you have intended it to.

Different types of fishing licence

The type of licence you need depends on the size of your vessel and the category your fishing activities fall into.

Vessels are divided into two groups for licensing purposes - those that are:

  • 10 metres and under in overall length
  • over 10 metres in overall length

The three licence categories are:

  • Category A
  • Category B
  • Category C

There are also special licences for certain types of fishing and for some minor fisheries. These are issued for:

  • minor pelagic fisheries - Atlanto-Scandian herring, Firth of Clyde herring, Mourne herring and Thames and Blackwater Herring
  • blue whiting
  • albacore tuna
  • handline mackerel
  • mussel seed
  • deep sea species

Read more about fishing vessel licence types.

For fishing outside UK and EU waters, you’ll need an external waters licence in addition to your domestic licence.

Help with deciding which licence to get

Your local Marine Management Organisation (MMO) office can advise you which licence you need.

You can find contact details for your local MMO office on the MMO website.

How to obtain a vessel licence

The purpose of the vessel licensing system is to control UK fishing opportunities. To restrict the size of the UK fishing fleet, no new fishing vessel licences are issued. This means that if you want to license a vessel for the first time you have to arrange for an existing licence ‘entitlement’ to be transferred to you.

A licence entitlement is created when a licence is no longer attached to an active fishing vessel. This may occur when a vessel:

  • is sold with or without its licence
  • sinks
  • is scrapped
  • is otherwise deregistered

If the boat you purchase comes with a licence attached to it, an entitlement will be created from that licence which you can use to licence the vessel in your name. But if it doesn’t have a licence attached to it, you need to acquire an entitlement from somewhere else. Available licence entitlements are advertised from time to time in trade newspapers. Local fishing vessel agents may also be aware of suitable licences available for transfer.

The MMO doesn’t get involved in commercial transactions. Although they can advise you on suitable entitlements, you are responsible for making sure that entitlements you buy meet your requirements.

Before you can be issued with a fishing vessel licence your vessel must be registered with the UK Ship Register - Registry of Shipping and Seamen (RSS).

Apply for a vessel licence

The steps you need to follow to apply for a vessel licence are:

  1. apply for a certificate of registry from the RSS
  2. apply to transfer the licence entitlement into your name using form AFL7
  3. apply for the licence using form AFL2, after the local Fishery Office returns the completed form AFL7 confirming you as the entitlement holder

When you send in form AFL2 you must also send the completed form AFL7 and a valid certificate of registry.

If you’re combining (‘aggregating’) two or more entitlements, you usually have to pay a ‘capacity penalty’ when you license your vessel. If you’re just using a single licence entitlement, you don’t have to pay a capacity penalty.

See more information on applying for a fishing vessel licence.

Registering a vessel

Before you can get a licence for your vessel you must register it with the UK Ship Register - RSS. There are two types of registration:

  • full registration - where you have to prove ownership by producing documents of sale covering the three previous years (or a builder’s certificate in the case of a new vessel)
  • simple registration - where you can provide a receipted invoice instead of formal bills of sale

Documents required to register a vessel

You need to complete a British ship form and submit it with the appropriate supporting documentation and the fee to the UK Ship Register. You can do this online or by post.

The documents you need to register your vessel depend on whether you’re applying for full or simple registration.

For full registration you’ll need forms:

  • MSF4740 - Application to register a British Ship
  • MSF4728 - Declaration of Eligibility
  • MSF4705 - Title Document, a Bill(s) of Sale covering the last three years and/or builders certificates
  • MSF4743 - Builders Certificate

For simple registration you need:

  • form MSF4740 - Application to register a Fishing Vessel
  • form MSF4728 - Declaration of Eligibility
  • an original receipted invoice or Bill of Sale to the person who wishes to register the vessel

You can find all forms for registering your vessel on the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) website.

For both forms of registration you also need to send:

  • copy of Certificate of Incorporation (if the owner is a body corporate)
  • Safety Certificate (for vessels over 15 metres)
  • International Tonnage Certificate (ITC69) if the vessel is over 15 metres
  • Seafish Certificate
  • registration fee

Fishing vessel survey

A fishing vessel has to be surveyed before you can register it on the UK Ship Register. You can find out about fishing vessel surveys on the MCA website.

Choose the port of choice

Your vessel will be registered to a port of choice. You can find a complete list of ports on the MCA website.

Fees and costs for registering a vessel

The level of fees and costs depends on the type of registration you choose. You can find details of the fees and costs of registration on the MCA website.

Further information

Fisheries Management and Control Team - Fishing Vessel Licences

0191 376 2597

Environment Agency Helpline

03708 506 506

Guernsey Sea Fisheries

01481 234 567

Jersey Fisheries Office

01534 866 200

Isle of Man Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry

01624 685 835

Local MMO office contact details on the MMO website

Registering a vessel and registration forms on the UK Ship Register website

Published 5 August 2014