When the Iron Curtain came crashing down in 1989, nobody predicted the effect this would have on angling in Britain. The subsequent membership of the European Union by former communist states in Eastern Europe prompted immigration to Britain – and a clash of angling cultures swiftly followed. Unfortunately this has understandably generated much bad feeling is negatively affecting the environment. Unfortunately, it must be said, the British authorities’ reaction to this unprecedented scenario was slow – but one young immigrant from Poland, a passionate angler, showed us all the way: Radoslaw Papiewski.
As a young man, Rado migrated from Poland to Britain in search of a better life – and worked very hard, in various jobs, to achieve his aim. The former communist economy is still comparatively poor and remains largely agrarian, where energy bills and fuel in particular are disproportionately high compared to the minimum wage. For this reason, the Polish do not, and never have had, the luxury of seeing fish as a sporting commodity. In these circumstances, fish are a cheap source of food. Indeed, food – not sport or conservation – has to be a basic priority, and that’s just the way it has to be over there. Rado, however, quickly identified that things were very different in England, so immediately set about learning and complying with our law and catch and return culture. Living in Chippenham, Wiltshire, he fished the Bristol Avon for predatory fish and barbel, but noticed how fellow anglers’ bankside attitudes towards him became hostile once they heard his accent. Not unnaturally, as Rado was not doing anything wrong, this upset him, and confirmed in his mind that the only way forward was for immigrants to embrace the laws and cultures of their adopted country – as he had. To Rado, integration – not alienation – was the way forward.
What Rado decided to do was approach the British authorities for the funding of an educational programme, to make migrants aware of our laws and conservation-based approach – to prevent problems happening in the first place. Given the deep-rooted Eastern European culture of viewing fish as food, this was a tough call – but so it was that four years ago Rado was able to set up the ‘Building Bridges Project’ and started working for the Angling Trust. Since then, Rado and his small team of migrant volunteers have produced multi-lingual leaflets for the Angling Trust and Environment Agency, multi-lingual signage for fisheries, and worked very hard to integrate migrants into British angling clubs, breaking down barriers by holding matches and social events – and, where necessary, working with the police and Environment Agency to collate intelligence on those who refuse to comply, with a view to effecting prosecutions. Indeed, the Polish Anglers’ Association in Britain, which Rado and friends set up, goes from strength to strength and can only be considered a success story. Rado himself is now a British citizen and totally committed to working for the benefit of Britain – which he does tirelessly, and as such is a perfect example of how immigration can be a positive benefit. Few young people, in fact, have impressed me, through their hard work, dedication and commitment, often in the face of adversity, as much as young Radoslaw Papiewski – so absolutely top marks for my mate ‘Radio’.
Under-resourced, however, as we all are, Rado faces a huge task – so progress, although tangible, can be frustratingly slow. As a retired police officer now working full-time overseeing the Angling Trust’s contribution towards fisheries enforcement, I know full-well that there is always a bigger picture, and that the only realistic way forward is for us all to work together on common problems. In this case, we are not just talking about angling organisations but equally the police, Environment Agency, Cefas, and other government organisations – and we also need help from the enforcement agencies in Eastern Europe.
A few months ago, I asked Rado to liaise with the Polish fisheries enforcement people and establish exactly what the position is there regarding licensed fishing. So it was that Rado interviewed Andrzej Zawlocki, founder of an organisation of volunteers called the OSA. From this we learned that there is indeed licensed angling in Poland, and that poaching is largely the domain of organised criminals. The interview was illuminating, and can be read here: https://linesonthewater.anglingtrust.net/2014/04/14/fisheries-enforcement-in-poland-interview-with-osa/
In South East England, the Voluntary Bailiff Service, aimed at supporting Environment Agency fisheries enforcement officers through firstly collating and reporting intelligence, and, in due course, hopefully helping with rod licence checking, remains a pilot project with sixty-seven trained Volunteer Bailiffs. It is interesting that in Holland, Sportsfisserij largely delivers fisheries enforcement via a voluntary initiative – and in Poland volunteers numbers thousands, backing up hundreds of government fisheries officers. Naturally, there was only one thing to do: get over there, meet with the Polish enforcers, and find out more – because to address a problem, the obvious requirement is to properly understand it.
On a lovely summer’s day in June 2014, Rado and I flew to Gadansk – and before landing, as Poland, a beautiful country, sprawled out like Google Earth beneath us, the problem was obvious: the country is largely rural, much of it remote, punctuated by thousands of smallholdings, with countless lakes and innumerable rivers. So, these are largely a country people, to whom living off nature’s bounty is as natural as it economically essential – and with so much water, fish are an obvious prey for these human hunters.
The following day, our first appointment was in Koszalin, at a huge government building, to meet with the fisheries officers of the PSR. Rado and I were ushered into a conference room where eight very tough-looking paramilitary types awaited us – all of whom were armed with Glock automatic pistols. Indeed, this had the makings more of a Cold War summit than a meeting about fisheries enforcement! With Rado translating, things became clear: the PSR has police powers, is armed and numbers 370 officers – backed up by 5,000 volunteers. Their job is to enforce legislation concerning size limits and quotas, concentrating on commercial enterprises. To them, anglers, who are dealt with by the voluntary force, are not the issue – organised poaching gangs – dynamiting and netting large numbers of migratory fish in particular – are. The PSR is well resourced, fielding a strong, armed, presence, and backed up by draconian court sentences. To most ordinary families, even a modest fine would be problematic, and these alone are a deterrent to anglers; organised poachers face jail sentences. Because, however, these are serious criminals, some still take the risk. Interestingly, because it is backed up by such a large voluntary service and so well resourced, whilst it reacts to information received, the PSR is not intelligence-led – as are all enforcement agencies in Britain. Moreover, it does not, as a matter of course, share intelligence with or work jointly with the police or other organisations – simply because it is powerful enough to resolve issues alone. The mention of organised crime, however, means one thing: these criminals will undoubtedly be involved in wider, possibly more serious, offences – and could well be travelling to other countries, not least Britain. The PSR, though, has no liaison with our Environment Agency or police – and that must change. Today, there is an ever increasing amount of cross-border criminal travel on an international basis – so an insular approach is not a good long-term strategy.
We left the meeting very impressed with the PSR, especially their resources and motivation – with an agreement that information would, in future, be provided to us on criminals convicted of poaching in Poland known to have moved to Britain. This information, of course, will be of great help and interest to both the police and Environment Agency: job done.
Our next appointment was with Miroslaw Kachnicz, an Inspector of the PZW – Poland’s largest angling club, which controls most of the country’s waters. Twenty years ago, the PZW felt that whilst the PSR concentrated, rightly, on organised poaching gangs and commercial fishery offences, more enforcement was required for anglers. Consequently, the PZW set up its own version of the Voluntary Bailiff Service – which is now 5,000 strong. These volunteers, however, unlike the PSR and police, are not armed, have no powers to stop and search, but can seize items used in the commission of an offence, and have the normal citizen’s power of arrest. Because of the need to stop and search, the PZW patrols regularly with both the police and PSR – and the also well-resourced Polish police require just 24 hours’ notice to join an operation. Unlike in Britain, 50% of fines generated from angling related offences are invested into fisheries enforcement, which, along with money from fixed penalties and funding from local councils, ensures that the PZW too is well resourced.
Next on our whistle-stop tour was to meet Dominik Walczak and a colleague of the OSA – another voluntary organisation, which arose because the PZW was up to establishment and unable to expand further. Andrzej Zawlocki, therefore, decided to form the smaller OSA, of younger, fitter, and highly motivated men, dedicated to conserving certain Polish game rivers. There is no antipathy between the PZW and OSA, however – there is a role for both – and the OSA also enjoys excellent relations with the PSR and police. The value of the OSA is evident in this statistic: the 270 strong PZW volunteer force in the region visited had achieved thirty-three prosecutions to date this year; the twenty strong OSA, over fifty.
To talk with not only the professionals of the PSR but equally the dedicated volunteers of both the PZW and OSA was inspirational: these are anglers totally dedicated to conservation, and, like Rado here in England, trying desperately to do something positive to address the issue. But herein lies the rub: – In England, fish are protected by various means, including close seasons and returning them over a certain size. In Poland, because fish are taken as food, the size limit scenario is completely contrary to our own: fish under, not over, a certain size must be returned. This has led to these beautiful Polish waters being full of fish – but only small to average size ones. So, we can now see exactly why we have a problem with certain migrants here: –
- Their culture and economy dictate that fish are seen as cheap food.
- They are brought up to kill fish over a certain size – not return them.
- Compared to Poland, Britain is busting at the seams with fish, including big ones.
- The police and fisheries officers here are unarmed, comparatively poorly resourced, meaning that presence is low, and court sentences light.
Incredibly, none of the people to whom we spoke had any idea concerning British angling law and culture, and were completely oblivious to the issues migrants have caused here. When explained, however, all were perfectly understanding of why we had to address this, and why Rado and I visiting was so important. All sympathised, very much in fact, and have promised us their help.
Poles, and I’m sure those from other Eastern European countries, are not criminals per se. In fact, from what I saw, they are very law abiding. The problem we have here, taking into account the four points above, is akin to the ‘kids in an unsupervised sweetshop’ scenario.
So, what are we going to do about it?
- Publish articles in the Polish press, raising awareness of the issues here and British angling law and culture – ensuring that migrants get the message before landing.
- Maintain a liaison with the PSR, PZW and OSA regarding Polish criminals known to travel to Britain – and provide this information to the police and Environment Agency.
- Actively support and pursue ‘Building Bridges’, to ensure that those migrants intending to stay here and contribute are educated regarding our laws and culture, and generate this into a positive scenario.
- Work closely with the police and Environment Agency to share intelligence and prosecute those migrants who do not comply with the laws of our land.
Poles, of course, are not the only migrants from Eastern Europe – so we are now liaising with colleagues in Lithuania to increase our intelligence matrix and enforcement partners. Ultimately this work will spread across Europe – joining up the dots and getting all involved working together, off the same page. It isn’t actually rocket science, and it could, I think, be justifiably be asked why this somewhat basic background police work was not done years ago – but, with the benefits of Rado’s work and my personal policing experience, the Angling Trust is now in a position to lead on this issue and hopefully help put things right. To do that, we also need your help: next time you meet a migrant angler, how about explaining to him or her that if they are doing something wrong, why that is? The Angling Trust provides, free of charge, multi-lingual leaflets to help overcome any language difficulty, and I always carry a few of these in my rucksack, just in case. In my experience, when things are explained, these people are generally compliant – and their numbers have already swelled the previously dwindling memberships of various angling clubs, in addition to bringing much-needed business to hard-pressed tackle shops, particularly during the winter months. We also need incidents reporting as appropriate to the police and/or Environment Agency on 101 or 0800 80 70 60. This helps build the all-important intelligence picture and statistics, which drive resources and operations. Also, unless we do that, those requiring prosecution will never be dealt with – so, make that call.
If any clubs or fishery managers out there are having problems with migrants, please do not hesitate to contact Rado, who can help through his ‘Building Bridges’ strategy and ability to engage with migrant communities.
Admittedly this is a big issue in particular parts of the country, but via this holistic approach – prevention through education and integration, increasing intelligence and enforcement – if we all do our bit, we’ll crack it.
For more information on Building Bridges, please see: http://www.anglingtrust.net/page.asp?section=709§ionTitle=Building+Bridges+with+Migrant+Anglers
For more information on Angling Trust enforcement work, please see my other blogs here: https://linesonthewater.anglingtrust.net/
Dilip Sarkar MBE, Fisheries Enforcement Manager