Fisheries Minister Pete Hodgson is telling recreational anglers that a controversial plan to make them buy licences is unlikely to proceed.

More than 76,000 people have rallied against the licensing proposal that appeared in "Soundings" a Ministry of Fisheries discussion paper released in July.

But Mr Hodgson yesterday distanced himself from the concept, saying he did not like it, few New Zealanders did, and it was unlikely to be introduced while Labour was in power.

Mr Hodgson said he let it be included in the discussion paper because some recreational fishing advocates wanted it.

That statement sparked verbal flak from the Recreational Fishing Council, which said licensing was originally the minister's idea.

Mr Hodgson said recreational fishing could no longer be taken for granted because too many fish were being taken. Options included a law to make the recreational catch a set percentage of the commercial take, or changes to the way fishing areas were managed.

"Dangling a line off a rock, wharf or boat is part of what it means to be a New Zealander," he said. "I think licensing in any way is unlikely to be part of our response."

The ministry was flooded with submissions this week as the pre-Christmas deadline loomed for the public to have its say. Thousands of anglers have supported option four in the discussion paper, which lays down a set of principles they want to be set in stone.

They include a ban on licensing, the public having priority over commercial fishers, and a reasonable free daily bag limit.

Fishing council president Steve Penn said he was happy the minister opposed licensing, but miffed that Mr Hodgson made the idea sound as if it came from anglers.

"He's got a short memory - at a meeting with us he said it had to be included in the document before it could be rejected."

Under the present law, the minister sets an initial quota for each type of fish. An allowance is then made for Maori fishing and the rest is split between recreational and commercial fishers.

Mr Hodgson said he opposed the idea of the minister setting quotas because the rule was too weak. Recreational fishing was a birthright that should exist forever.