For years, fishery owners and angling clubs have felt impotent in trying to deal with issues such as fishing without permission and fish theft. Why? Because these offences – which are criminal matters – were not properly understood by the police, Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), or courts. Confusion abounded, regarding the law and who was responsible for dealing with the problem. This was exasperating – and, needless to say, confidence plummeted. All of that, thanks largely to the new vision and way clearly signposted now by the Fisheries Enforcement Campaign (FEC), has changed.
The fact is that fishing without permission is an offence under Schedule 1, Theft Act 1968. This is not a civil matter – and nor is the theft of fish (from enclosed waters). This is not only Rural Crime, but also Business Crime, Wildlife Crime, and, it must be said, even Hate and Organised Crime. The police may not understand the difference between a dry fly and a boilie – but they do understand crime. This is exactly what was lacking before: a thorough briefing in language the police relate to. The other crucial thing, underpinning all enforcement, is not only incoming intelligence (hence why reporting incidents is crucial) but also sharing it with other partners. This has been inconsistent in the past – but all involved are now increasingly more aware of the need to work together and pool resources. Why? Because this is criminal activity and offenders are frequently involved in much wider offending.
Last November, we launched Operation TRAVERSE with Lincolnshire and Cambridgeshire Police, the Environment Agency (EA), Cefas and UK National Wildlife Crime Unit (NWCU) please see: –
The idea was that through maintaining a high profile, awareness of the issue and due process would be raised not only within the police service but also throughout the angling and wider community. We have to increase incoming calls, due to the intelligence arising, which permits appropriately resourced and pre-scripted tactical operations targeting known hotspots and offenders. Intelligence, however, only increases with confidence – so that is our first job. In the past, anglers have rightly complained that no-one appears interested in these issues. That may once have been so – but no more. TRAVERSE was the first tangible indication of the very necessary sea-change – now followed by the even bigger LEVIATHAN.
LEVIATHAN is the biggest initiative targeting illegal fishing and fish theft mounted to date: a partnership between EIGHT police forces: West Mercia (Herefordshire, Worcestershire & Shropshire), Warwickshire, West Midlands, Gloucestershire, Cheshire, Dyfed-Powys, Gwent and South Wales Police, NWCU, the Angling Trust & Fish Legal, the EA, Natural Resources Wales (NRW) and Cefas. Like TRAVERSE, LEVIATHAN will be ongoing, and the great thing is that all such operations are subject to an Operational Order, explaining the whole thing and law involved. That way, in theory, whenever an angler calls in, the call-taker and officer responding will know exactly what to do (more of this later). Ultimately, in order to remove any ambiguity nationally, the intention is to see the whole of England, and hopefully even beyond, covered by such multi-force, multi-agency, operations to protect fish and fisheries.
LEVIATHAN was launched on 11 June 2015 and opened by Assistant Chief Constable Amanda Blakeman of Warwickshire and West Mercia Police: ‘Targeting those who commit crime in our rural communities is a priority for the alliance and this includes Wildlife Crime, poaching and Anti-Social Behaviour around our waterways. We are very pleased to play a key role in Operation LEVIATHAN, and by working in partnership we can tackle those involved in poaching and other forms of rural criminality more effectively’.
Mark Lloyd, Angling Trust Chief Executive Officer attended and commented that: –
‘Operation LEVIATHAN is another major step forward for the protection of fish and fishing – now and for the future. The Angling Trust’s Freshwater Team has made very impressive progress over the past three years, working in partnership with the Environment Agency, to tackle illegal fishing. The involvement of the police has transformed fisheries enforcement. We are very grateful that chief officers have recognised the importance of tackling this significant rural crime, which damages fish stocks and adds to the worries of thousands of small businesses involved in fishing. Initiatives like Operation LEVIATHAN send out a clear message to criminals: the angling community is not prepared to stand by while fish are stolen from our waters. Anglers must be able to fish in peace, without fearing that they will encounter organised criminals on the bank.’
Dafydd Evans, Environment Agency Area Manager for Shropshire, Herefordshire, Worcestershire and Gloucestershire: –
‘The Environment Agency welcomes the opportunity that the Rural Crime Strategy presents. Coupled with the National Wildlife Crime Unit’s prioritisation of poaching, there has never been a better time for all agencies to work in partnership to tackle illegal fishing, poaching and the criminals that seek to gain from it. By working together with partners we will achieve the footprint we need to tackle the illegal activity that damages fisheries and anglers sport’.
Importantly, we are supported at Westminster by Daniel Kawcyznski MP, a member of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Angling, and currently hoping to be Chair of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee in Mr Cameron’s new Parliament: –
‘As MP for Shrewsbury & Atcham, situated on the river Severn’s banks in Shropshire, I am aware of how important both the aquatic environment and angling are to many people. Indeed, angling brings much-needed tourism and other positive benefits to our country, and it is therefore entirely right that we should all work together to protect fish and fisheries. To that end I am delighted to see the police responding so positively to the concerns of their communities and working with anglers, the general public and other partners. A great concern, which initiatives like Operation LEVIATHAN will very much help address, is the problem revolving around migrant anglers from Eastern Europe taking fish for the pot, contrary to our conservation-based laws and approach, due to a cultural difference. This has, I know, generated division in communities and understandably upset British anglers. However, alienation is not the answer – education and integration is, and to that end I endorse the Angling Trust’s ‘”Building Bridges” Project aimed at exactly that. Operations like LEVIATHAN and the existing TRAVERSE, provide perfect opportunities to engage with all communities, raise awareness and work together. I wish Operation LEVIATHAN the success it deserves and commend the hard work and commitment of all involved’.
So, please, do not tell me no-one is interested or supportive – clearly they are. This is now, therefore, an unprecedented opportunity, which we have been working on behind the scenes for over two years, for anglers to get some action against those – regardless of ethnicity – bent on destroying our fisheries or not paying their way. We MUST report incidents in progress or secondary information to the police and EA as appropriate. This is not only in the hope of achieving a response, when resources are available to do so, but also because of the all-important intelligence arising – and because the only way to evidence the extent of a problem is through sheer volume of incoming calls; moaning and whinging online just doesn’t help – picking up the phone does.
Fishing without permission and the theft of fish are criminal offences. That being so, if you see these things happening, use 999 – and report a crime in progress. If reporting historically, use 101. Anonymous information can also be passed to Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111. It’s all explained here: –
Rod-licensing and fisheries legislation are matters for the EA: 0800 80 70 60. As with the police, always obtain a call reference number and request feedback. This is very important.
We need to know: location, time, date, descriptions of offenders, details of vehicles, whether lines were baited and fishing, if so with what and has anything been caught/removed. Has the offender been non-compliant or aggressive? Photographing and videoing offences in progress can be helpful – but PLEASE be CAREFUL: you don’t want to go swimming with your camera. Joking aside – never put yourself at risk, but please do make those calls. They really are essential.
On the subject of calls, there is an ongoing briefing process to ensure that all call-takers are aware of live operations. Because of the volume of calls and staff turnover, there will be occasions when the system may fall down. We have to be realistic. If that happens, let me know, and I can raise this with the police Single Points of Contact (SPOC), who can then address the issue, or with the EA.
On the subject of the EA, in May, Adrian Saunders, EA Senior Advisor on Incidents & Compliance, and I visited the Agency’s Incident Communication Centre (ICS) at Sheffield, to brief all call-taking teams on the FEC and joint operations. Encouragingly, all were already aware of TRAVERSE, following the written briefing we circulated last year, and staff are now more aware and understanding of fisheries offences and anglers’ concerns. We were warmly welcomed and I can genuinely say that I was very impressed by everything I saw and all I spoke to. Now that we have established this liaison, the intention is to maintain this and provide the ICS with periodic briefings and feedback. The ICS fields calls of every conceivable type on a national basis, and rarely do staff, the first point of contact, receive any feedback concerning jobs they have triggered by answering a call. That needs to change. Feedback is vital – for everyone – and we absolutely must all work together. Please see: –
Talking of working together, top marks also go to Nottinghamshire Police, which has appointed Special Constable Haddon Smith as a point of contact for angler liaison. This follows certain problems experienced by anglers in that force area, not least Nottinghamshire Piscatorials, so we have been through a process of developing contacts and raising awareness within that force – and all now happy, another step forward. Please see: –
Other forces will soon be following this lead – so watch this space.
So, the essential message is this: make that call, because things have changed. They won’t change everywhere overnight, but we are on the case – and should an angler not receive an appropriate response, please let me know so that I can take this up. We’ve never had a better opportunity to protect fish and fisheries – and we ALL have a part to play.
On the personal fishing front, I’ve not wet a line since 14 March 2015, when the coarse close season finished – too busy! To be fair, these days my only interest is in river pike and zander fishing, so I’m not planning to get back out there until September at the earliest. I am, though, looking forward to the release of my first fishing book – inevitably River Pike, published by Harper Fine Angling Books and being launched at Reading’s famous Land’s End Inn on 25 July 2015.
Finally, on the subject of the coarse close season: whatever our views on this emotive subject are, the fact remains that this is currently the law of our land. For the third consecutive year, the Voluntary Bailiff Service has been working closely in SE England with various police forces and the EA, cracking down on illegal close season fishing. It is interesting to note that this has been the quietest Operation CLAMP DOWN to date – which may well be evidence that people are starting to get the message and the FEC is working.
Play your part – make that call!
Angling Trust National Enforcement Manager, Dilip Sarkar MBE