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Tackling illegal fishing

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The past 33 years of my life has been spent protecting fisheries, particularly salmon fisheries, from illegal fishing and also making sure that legitimate anglers are not cheated by those who fish without paying their way.

I am very lucky that I have a job where no two days are the same. As you might expect, the year does tend to follow a certain pattern though. Up here in the North East, the salmon fishing season starts in February with the arrival of the larger multi-sea winter fish. Sea trout fishing starts in April. It is our job to check that anglers have their licences.  Of course with so many big fish in the river we also get an increase in poaching and often spend long nights out in the cold and wet following up on intelligence gathered to catch offenders.

Environment Agency enforcement teams out on patrol and using specialist night vision
Environment Agency enforcement teams out on patrol and using specialist night vision

The good news is that the introduction of carcass tags has made it much more difficult for poachers to sell on fish. This means that criminals’ activity has changed so that they are now more about catching fish to order. As a result we also have to keep a vigilant watch on outlets such as markets, hotels and restaurants. Fisheries enforcement officers are visiting food businesses to check coolers, freezers and fish storage facilities as well as giving advice on how to spot wild salmon and sea trout that have been caught illegally. Bailiffs are also patrolling rivers and coastal areas, overtly and covertly, to target illegal fishing. It is an offence to sell untagged wild fish.

I am certain that the work I and my colleagues have done on deterring poaching has made a big difference to salmon stocks in the region.

We don’t just focus on salmon though. The trout fishing season starts in March and the coarse fishing season starts in June. We spend a lot of effort between March and June making sure that people are not fishing during the coarse fish close season which is there to protect spawning fish. Every year we catch people who are risking damaging fish stocks. The same is unfortunately true at the end of the year from October when we often catch people trying to take salmon and sea trout illegally from the spawning tributaries which will have a dramatic effect on numbers.

The biggest fishery for wild salmon and sea trout operates off the North East coast and we regulate the efforts of these netsmen very closely to ensure they do not jeopardise fish stocks. Between April and August we carry out coastal patrols and regularly go out to sea to check that their nets are constructed and being fished according to the byelaws.

Illegal nets like this are removed
Illegal nets like this are removed

A really important part of the job is checking licences though. I enjoy getting out on the river bank and meeting anglers but it’s a shame that there are still people who try to cheat their fellow anglers by not buying a licence. I have heard all sorts of ridiculous excuses from ‘my wife always buys it’, to ‘I own the water’. But ultimately it’s their responsibility to make sure they have got one. You can buy your licence online.

Despite the cold and wet I think the most enjoyable times were those nights spent with the team, on the river bank, catching the serious salmon poachers who were stopping our rivers developing and improving. Then seeing the case through to trial and securing a prosecution.

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  1. Comment by john posted on

    I have been looking advice on how to stop illegal netting of trout salmon near me .what I can do to stop it even looked how to volunteer as a water bailiff but nothing here in no only mainland UK .anyway followed a boat which I watched haul nets with fish in it 3 nets in total rang for a bailiff and I was told he was not available as there only one was told ring police rang them told to ring bailiff as he deals with it not us.police then said after being told he was not available could they come out evidence was sitting here in boat etc sorry we can't come out for that is there anything that I could do like volunteer to be a volunteer bailiff or some power I can get to report them or haul there nets up with out being prosecuted myself .thanks

  2. Comment by Dr M C Hughes posted on

    The EA and NRW action in prosecuting major polluters and others who damage the riparian environment is risable. As evidenced in The Guardian 21 4 22 the number of documented violations of legislation designed to reduce water pollution caused by agriculture has hit RECORD LEVELS, The reason - the useless EA and NRW do not persue enforcement, It is estimated that tens of THOUSANDS, yes thousands of farms continue to commit undocumented violations. 391 breaches were identified in 2021-22 up from 106 in the previous year. The spineless EA has yet to issue fines or prosecute anybody. Legislation allows for fixed penalties of £100-300 & fines up to £250k. Agri pollution accounts for 40% of watercourse damage. Extrapolating the data from a pollution survey (2053 inspections / 497 violations suggests that maybe 20,000 farm businesses are likely to be breaching the pollution rules. The EA needs to get up of its “seat”and start effecting some prosecution of serial polluters who kill 000’s of fish. All to often it is cheaper for the farmer to pollute and risk a fine which if imposed (unlikely) is from previous evidence likely to be less than the cost of proper disposal of the waste. In 2019 a slurry incident killed more that 2000 fish - the polluter received a trivial fine of £11366. Some anglers have been prosecuted with fines in the order of £1000 for fishing without a licence. This is disproportionate and smacks of the EA going after the low hanging fruit. As a keen environmentalist, and a law abiding citizen I have wasted hundreds of pounds purchasing a Migratory fishing licence, supporting the EA / NRW whilst they pursue an ineffective strategy in protecting the riverine environment. We know that the Water utility companies have discharged millions of tons of overflow sewage into rivers without meaningful prosecution, We know that agriculture pollutes and yet the EA does nothing. Anglers need to stand together and refuse to buy a fishing licence, until such times that the EA / NRW commit to the task that they are empowered to do, and instead donate the money to organisations with real intent, who will actually go after the polluters

  3. Comment by Daniel Rose posted on

    The river great ouse has had certain stretches netted multipool times a year by poachers, to the point real anglers stay away, as the harassment can often be worse than the actual poaching, I've experienced myself groups of lads sitting behind me while I fish only to beg for the fish that I put back...
    The major problem is that the government actually allows them to take a certain amount of fish per day, so as you can imagine if you have 10 guys taking there quota every day, it's not long before the rivers are void of fish...
    Our own government are alowwimg the destruction of our natural river ways...


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