Fishing has long been the UK’s most popular participant sport. Anglers have spent decades battling to protect waterways from polluters, from undue abstraction and to foster fish welfare. Catch and release is a fundamental principle of our coarse angling but sadly this is not recognised by all.
The arrival of large numbers of Eastern Europeans in the UK has led to major problems at fisheries. For these immigrants it is quite normal to eat freshwater fish and some of the methods employed to catch them are pretty barbaric, not to mention illegal.
In the UK taking fish without the owner’s permission contravenes the 1968 Theft Act and we’re not talking peanuts, either. In today’s market a 20lb carp is worth around £1,000. That’s a hefty price tag for something a poacher simply regards as a meal.
Crime and violence go hand in hand and club bailiffs are naturally cautious of approaching fish thieves, who often operate in gangs. Earlier this year John Anderson, from Burton On Trent, suffered a knife attack and ended up in hospital on a spinal board after approaching a group of poachers at a lake he manages.
Until now the response when reporting poaching incidents to the police has been inconsistent but that is about to change thanks to the efforts of the Angling Trust.
One of the country’s most senior police officers has given his backing to an initiative which will ensure that police respond properly to reports of poaching and fish theft.
Simon Prince, Chief Constable of Dyfed Powys and the National Policing Lead for Wildlife & Rural Crime has given his support after evidence was presented to him by the Angling Trust National Enforcement Manager, Dilip Sarkar MBE, who is himself a retired police officer.
The Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) will now ensure that all Chief Officers in England and Wales will receive training about poaching and fish theft, and pass this on to their operational staff.
It’s certainly good news for anglers and angling clubs who have been frustrated when reporting criminal offences connected with poaching to the police, mainly due to confusion amongst call-handlers and operational police officers who have not been aware of their duties and responsibilities in this area.
Dale Whittaker, Secretary of Nottinghamshire Piscatorial Society, said: “We have recently reported a number of incidents to the local police but officers have clearly been confused and their response sometimes inappropriate. This has then taken time for the Angling Trust to resolve with Nottingham Police – so this is great news, because at last it means that police staff will be properly informed and can get things right from the start.”
Let’s hope this is the beginning. Arresting offenders will obviously help but the real solution lies with education in the immigrant communities.
Meanwhile the Angling Trust has published a Reporting Guide For Anglers in the Campaigns section of its web site setting out exactly what to do and say when reporting an incident to the police. It’s a document every bailiff and fishery owner really ought to carry because it will guarantee action and a safe conclusion to poaching incidents.