To really deal decisively with a problem, first you have to understand it. Really understand it. In England we have an issue with some migrant anglers from eastern Europe not abiding by our conservation-based angling law and rules. It is widely believed that this is because there is no such thing as regulated fishing in eastern Europe, and that eastern Europeans have neither respect or consideration for the environment. In reality, neither of these things are true. Certainly the law is different, but rules there most certainly are, and the authorities in the countries concerned fully recognise the environment’s importance. Culturally, fish are seen as a free or cheap food source in eastern Europe, which is what has, to some extent, caused us problems here. However, this also causes problems, you may be surprised to know, in eastern Europe too – as Angling Trust ‘Building Bridges’ Project Manager Rado Papiewski and I discovered on our fact-finding missions to Poland and most recently Lithuania.
In June 2014, Rado and I visited Poland, so that I could learn first-hand about the law and how the authorities perceive environmental issues – including poaching and fish theft. Our full report on that trip can be found here: –
In England, we have worked hard to resolve this issue long-term. As any police officer knows, prevention is always better than detection – hence why ‘Building Bridges’ is a vital tool in our box. Because our enforcement system is ‘intelligence-led’, driven by information received and by the volume of calls received, it has also been necessary to raise awareness throughout the angling community, encouraging anglers to report incidents and information to the police and Environment Agency. Then, we have had to ensure that fisheries offences are better understood by the police, within the wider frameworks of Rural, Business, Wildlife, Hate and Organised Crime. The success of this hard campaign is now plain to see, with multi-agency, multi-force, operations targeting poaching and fish theft. In November 2014, for example, we launched the ever-growing Operation TRAVERSE in partnership with Lincolnshire and Cambridgeshire Police, the Environment Agency, Cefas – and the Spoleczna Straz Rybacka (PSR, the Polish fisheries enforcement agency); in June 2015, we launched Operation LEVIATHAN, involving eight police forces and which has already added another five to that list. Please see: –
If anyone still requires convincing that this fresh approach to fisheries enforcement, based upon sound and extensive policing experience, works when applied to the migrant angler issue, or that it is anything other than also tackling direct enforcement head-on, they should read this article appearing in the Spalding Guardian as a direct consequence of Operation TRAVERSE:
In trying to deal with the migrant issue, we have, however, experienced difficulty in achieving any interest from the migrant press in England – important to helping raise awareness throughout those communities here that we will not tolerate the theft of fish. To that end, last January Rado and I visited Westminster and met with Daniel Kawczynski MP, the Prime Minister’s Envoy on Polish & Eastern European Diaspora in the UK. Daniel’s co-operation was achieved and, now that the General Election is over and reappointment of parliament completed, his office is arranging meetings for us with the Polish and Lithuanian Ambassadors in London. They, we hope, will bring the migrant editors onside. Please see: –
Whilst, largely due to Rado being of Polish origin, engaging with the Polish migrant community in England has not been difficult, conversely we have had little success where the Lithuanian community is concerned. This required redress. Enter Lithuanian migrant Martynas Pranaitis.
Martynas has been in England a few years now. Having studied fisheries in Lithuania he works long hours as a baggage handler at a busy airport near London. He is a passionate angler, coarse and sea – and equally passionate about catch & release, and conserving the environment.
Like Rado, Martynas, a responsible and committed angler, has sadly experienced racism when fishing in England, however. Why? Because upon hearing their accents, some anglers naturally assume that they are poaching fsh thieves. Such an assumption is as unacceptable as killing fish. Martynas is, in fact, so committed to conservation that in spite of his long working hours he is also a valued and active member of the Angling Trust Voluntary Bailiff Service’s South Downs Area. So, just shows how wrong you can be….
Martynas is from Kaunas, the second largest city in the Republic of Lithuania, one of three Baltic states to the east of Poland, with a population of three million – and behind the so-called ‘Iron Curtain’ until 1989. Like Poland, Lithuania is a member of the European Union. In 2001, there were 5,000 Lithuanians living in the United Kingdom. Today, there are around 97,000 – so clearly engaging with and raising awareness throughout the Lithuanian migrant community can only be considered an important part of our mission – especially considering that angling is very popular in Lithuania, as in Poland. Kaunas is located at the confluence of the two largest Lithuanian rivers, the Nemunas and the Neris, and near the Kaunas Reservoir, the largest body of water entirely in Lithuania with a circumference of over 80 kilometres. So it was that whilst enjoying a holiday with his family, Martynas kindly worked very hard to set up meetings for Rado and me with some key-players in Lithuania – top marks.
Rado and I flew out from Luton to Kaunas on Tuesday 4 August 2015. Flying in, the scenery below was quite different, I thought, our approach to Gadansk the previous summer. Lithuania appeared heavily forested and bisected by more rivers, but, like Poland, studded with huge silver lakes. Little wonder, then, that fishing is so popular there. Unfortunately, however, there are issues with some Lithuanian migrants not abiding by our fisheries laws and taking fish for the table, or to sell in large numbers to their communities – as evidenced by this particular case at Warrington Magistrates’ Court: –
Martynas met us at the airport and whisked us off to our hotel, in what is a lovely medieval city, largely undamaged by the ravages of World War Two. Interestingly, we discovered from our guide that permission to fish is required in Lithuania, and that size limits also apply. The problem is, however, like in Poland, the limits protect smaller, not larger fish. Many anglers, however, can see that this is a flawed policy, and already practise catch and release – again, as in Poland.
On the morning of Wednesday 5 August, we got straight to work by meeting none other than Mr Linas Jonauskas – the thirty-four year old Minister for the Environment – and Dr Skirmantas Pocius, the Regional Director of the Aplinkos Aspaugus (Environment Agency), with his Chief of Nature Protection, Tomas Barkausas. These officials immediately impressed me: entirely receptive to our visit and to helping us, and – like us – passionately dedicated to conserving and improving the environment. Mr Jonauskas agreed entirely that a policy more focussed on catch and release was entirely beneficial, explaining that he had championed a programme to reintroduce lnyx into Lithuania – so successful was this project that there are now 100, not twenty, lynx in-country. He also agreed that the prospect of British anglers travelling to fish in his country – where there apparently remains an abundant population of big fish, in particular salmon, catfish and zander, represented an economic advantage. He was previously unaware of the issues we have in England, fully appreciated the problem and pledged support.
Clearly another man of action, Mr Jonauskas’s help was immediately forthcoming in briefing the Lithuanian Ambassador in London and bringing the editors of the migrant press in England onside. More top marks. The Minister then gave up more valuable time by attending our presentation to angling clubs and anglers at the superb Kaunas natural history museum. The interest in our visit and message was encouragingly positive – and those present promised to help us educate their brethren regarding our angling law and culture, so that this is understood before fishing in England.
Next we were off with Tomas Barkausas, Chief of Nature Protection, for a patrol on the Aplinkos Aspaugus unmarked patrol boat at the enormous Kaunas reservoir. Over 80 kilometres in circumference, the lake was, needless to say, packed with features enough to set any angler’s pulse and imagination racing – and there are plenty of fish too, including big cats and zander.
At 30 metres deep, lure fishing is the preferred method, from boats, but poachers cause problems with nets in particular. These nets are located with a sophisticated fish-finder, then the boat trawls round the area with a grappling hook until the net is caught and removed.
Again as in Poland, the poaching here is on a big scale – not by anglers as such but by Organised Crime Gangs removing fish in large numbers. Clearly this is an ongoing issue for Tomas and his 60 armed officers – backed up by 700 volunteer bailiffs. This is identical to the approach in Poland, where the 400 armed PSR officers are supported by 5,000 volunteers. In both countries there is an excellent working and intelligence-sharing relationship with the police.
After what turned out to be an eventful voyage, due to running out of petrol owing to a faulty fuel gauge, we eventually returned to shore. At nearly forty degrees Celsius, mind, it was hard to believe that Lithuanian winters reach minus thirty – and that this huge water is frozen so solid that lorries can be driven across it!
We then visited Tomas’s headquarters at a disused military airfield near Kaunas. In the old hangars are stored the Aplinkos Aspaugus’s equipment – and a vast array of items seized from poachers, including nets, fishing tackle, various barbaric-looking spears, and boats.
“Is it dangerous work?” I asked one of the officers. “No”, he replied, “not really – we just set Tomas on them!” Now, that, given that Tomas is built like a grizzly bear, would be a scary prospect indeed. Clearly a good man to have onside!
Thanks to the Minister’s intervention, Martynas, Tomas and I were then interviewed by Lithuanian national TV – a great step forward in raising awareness, which also helps highlight the essential work being done in Lithuania by the Aplinkos Aspaugus. The item was broadcast on Thursday 6 August, and can be watched here: –
By the time we got home, our visit had already generated widespread interest – having been reported upon in the biggest Lithuanian daily newspaper: –
And, perhaps even more importantly, at last by the Lithuanian press in England: –
So, progress on all fronts – which is exactly the way I like it.
What next? We continue with our work – on all fronts. What we at the Angling Trust now need to do is involve a Lithuanian speaker in ‘Building Bridges’, so that we can properly engage with and educate the migrant community. We need to maintain our new relationship with the Aplinkos Aspaugus and Mr Jonauskas – who has even offered to visit England to meet with our Environment Agency and the Lithuanian Ambassador. And we need anglers to continue reporting incidents and information to both the Environment Agency (fisheries and rod licence offences) on 0800 80 70 60, and the police (criminal offences, Including fishing without permission and theft theft of fish). For guidance please see: –
Further information on the ‘Building Bridges Project can be found here: –
And on the Voluntary Bailiff Service here: –
Having now visited Poland and Lithuania, what I think is this: there is clearly an appreciation of the benefits of catch and release in those countries, and the situation over there will ultimately change. Indeed, many anglers have embraced this concept voluntarily. Moreover, there are people dedicated to conservation and working very hard to improve and protect the environment. So, it is not at all the case that all eastern European anglers kill fish, even in their own countries, and nor do eastern European peoples have no regard for the environment. In my opinion, many of the migrants causing problems here are the very same who would be committing offences in their own countries. The same people, therefore, are causing problems for the PSR in Poland, the Aplinkos Aspaugus in Lithuania, and our enforcement agencies in England. That is why we must all work together on this, and in England join up our thinking and get the courts onside. This is happening. Increasingly. But it does take time. The majority of migrants can be educated and will comply, of that I am convinced. The issue of transient workers is more difficult to resolve – but we must keep the faith and crack on.
One thing I do know: young men like Rado Papiewski and Martynas Pranaitis are positive examples of eastern European migration and are both a credit to their communities – and angling. I am proud to know and work with both of them.
Dilip Sarkar MBE, Angling Trust Head of Enforcement, 10 August 2015.