A Long and Winding Road
Paul Thomas the Angling Trust Regional Fisheries Enforcement Manager for the East of England, talks about his first few months in the job.
As you all know, in August 2015 the EA awarded a landmark fisheries contract to the Angling Trust. This announcement followed a rigorous competitive process and forms part of the continued drive towards greater partnership working – leading to thriving fisheries and angling throughout England. As part of this contract the Angling Trust was tasked with working with enforcement partners, including the police, club and fishery owners to clamp-down on angling-related rural crime. As this was, in effect policing for fishing, Dilip Sarkar, himself a former police officer who had worked solo, nationally, on all this for three years and established a clear vision for the future, took the initiative to employ six former police officers to deliver that enforcement support; I am one of the six part time Regional Enforcement Managers who came into post on November 1st 2015.
That was just a bit of background information to set the scene and I now find myself six months into my tenure as the Regional Enforcement Manager for the East of England. As I reflect on what progress there has been as regards fisheries enforcement support in that time, with no small degree of pride, I ask myself three questions as we travel together down a long and winding road: “Where were we six months ago?” “Where are we now?” and “Where are we heading in the future?”
Six months ago there was something of a confused regime for reporting incidents to the EA and it was somewhat unclear if the EA even dealt with poaching offences. Six months ago there was some commitment to Operation TRAVERSE from various Police forces in the region but, in all honesty, no real confidence in those commitments and limited knowledge of what Operation TRAVERSE was and what it meant. Six months ago, once anglers had reported an offence to the authorities there was absolutely no means of communicating with either the EA or the police forces if we were dissatisfied with their responses – and I’ll not beat about the bush, there were a great many that were rightly frustrated at the lack of response to their calls from both the police and the EA.
Six months ago you may have heard of a remote volunteer bailiff ‘pilot’ scheme running in a different part of the country and the hope that maybe, one day there would be volunteer bailiffs helping to keep an eye on the waterways that you all love so much was very much up in the air. Six months ago, Facebook was somewhat rife with racist overtones as disenchanted anglers chose to vent their spleen over their fears of migrant anglers ‘raping’ waters of all the fish for the pot and various, almost vigilante groups, were being mobilised to ‘restore the balance.’
Six months ago anglers had, in effect, only one lone voice in the Angling Trust championing the need for a joined up and holistic approach to combatting the scourge of illegal fishing and fish theft and, although there was ‘hidden’ assistance behind the scenes, it is in the main thanks to the tenacity and sheer determination of Dilip Sarkar over the past four years or so that we as anglers, find ourselves where we are now but, to be fair, and despite the best efforts of a few, six months ago it was still all a bit dis-jointed and under-resourced to say the least.
So, since the Fisheries Enforcement Support Service was rolled out in partnership with the EA last November, what exactly has changed in the East of England? Since November 2015 I have travelled from my home in the West Country over to the East of England on no fewer than 29 occasions, from Humberside down to Essex to meet with a variety of police force wildlife crime officers, senior police officer who hold portfolio for wildlife crime, EA management and enforcement staff, fishery owners and anglers in an attempt to spread the word that there is someone available from your representative body the Angling Trust who you can call upon for assistance and help with enforcement related issues. All of the police forces throughout the region have been contacted to re-affirm their commitment to Operation TRAVERSE or, in the case of a number of force areas still un-decided, to join the initiative so that we are now working in partnership with Humberside, Lincolnshire, Cambridgeshire, Norfolk and Northamptonshire Police forces and have received commitments to join from Essex, Bedfordshire and Suffolk all of which I am progressing. From this you will see that our commitment to raising the awareness of fisheries related crimes with the police remains focussed and that anglers can now have confidence in reporting fishery related criminal offences to the police.
I have regularly voiced anglers concerns to the EA over issues surrounding the reporting of offences and the receipt of feedback following such reports to the 0800 807060 hotline. You, as anglers now have a clear mechanism to speak to the EA and Police forces for that matter and, if you are in any way dissatisfied with the response you receive from either authority, simply let me know the details and incident numbers and I will find out the answers for you so there is now a formal means of communicating with the authorities if required.
We have rolled out an area specific Facebook page for the East of England that is regularly populated with items of interest to the regions anglers which has been well received.
Through engagement with on-line angling communities whereby details of the work that the Angling Trust is carrying out in partnerships with the EA and Police is shared, we have seen a stark fall in the number of overtly racist threads on Facebook pages and more sharing of information can only serve to confine such bigoted rants to the past. Our Building Bridges project has expanded in the East of England with the addition of Szymon Skoczen a Polish speaking officer based in the Peterborough area and this can only serve to improve relationships between migrant anglers and the local communities – a vital part of working towards making angling the community based pastime it really should be.
Simon Skoczen – Our newest Building Bridges officer
The Volunteer Bailiff Service became much more than just a hope for the future as it was launched in March 2016 throughout the East of England with 25 volunteers completing the initial induction at the Mepal Outdoor Centre. Since induction, these volunteers have been doing sterling work on your behalf, acting as the eyes and ears of the enforcement community whilst carrying out in excess of 1500 hours of close season patrols on waterways in the region. As the numbers of EA warranted fishery enforcement officers continues to be a concern, this really is the way forward in ensuring that our waterways are regularly patrolled and the fear of detection in potential offenders is raised.
Volunteer Bailiffs at the inaugural East of England induction day in March 2016
The only way…
So what does the future hold? I will continue visiting the police partners of Operation TRAVERSE to ensure that they all maintain their pledge to the initiative and will strive to ‘sign up’ the remainder of the forces not yet fully committed to the cause thus keeping open the lines of communication already established. There are already management meetings scheduled with the EA along with a series of AT regional forums in the diary during which all matters enforcement related will be on the itinerary for discussion. Also in the diary for October is the second VBS induction and it is my pleasure to say that there are already a good number of expressions of interest in joining the service and this can only bode well for the future of angling in the East of England. Angling Alert is another initiative that we will be launching in the near future as a vehicle for information sharing between a variety of stakeholders with an interest in angling related enforcement, definitely one to look out for.
Now I’m under no illusion that we are only at the start of our journey and that massive issues still exist in certain areas but please rest assured that my commitment to the Fisheries Enforcement campaign will not waver as we move forward and my metaphorical door is always open, if you have an issue simply call or email and I will endeavour to help in any way I can as we travel down this long and winding road together.
Paul Thomas – 07495 433621 firstname.lastname@example.org