A Government body has been accused of not being ambitious enough in its attempts to boost the number of anglers in England and Wales.

The Environment Agency (EA), which is responsible for issuing rod licences, has launched a new strategy to recognise the social and economic benefits of angling.

But the Countryside Alliance has criticised the initiative, claiming the agency's target for rod licence sales in 2006/07 was 1.261 million - the same as 2003/04.

Charles Jardine, the Countryside Alliance's angling spokesman based in Shropshire, said: "Nearly all the environmental and social successes the strategy highlights have been achieved by Government working with anglers. That is why it is disappointing that the EA has not set itself a target to attract significantly more people to fishing.

"The role of the EA, which is funded to the tune of £18 million per year by anglers through rod licence sales, should be to join with other Government departments to aid the anglers and bodies who are already providing real benefit, and to provide the resources to bring more people into angling."

Mr Jardine praised initiatives such as Get Hooked on Fishing in Birmingham for helping to ensure angling had a long term future.

He added: "By introducing children who had been involved in youth crime and truancy to fishing, 98 per cent of those on the scheme have not re-offended.

"We hope that the Government and its agencies will work with us and support everyone's ambition to see hundreds of thousands of new anglers."