From seizing deadly weapons to hauls of illegal carp, the past few seasons have seen some remarkable wins against the criminals who target fisheries. Dom Garnett casts an eye on five of biggest and most eye-opening recent cases, alongside continuing work to patrol waters and catch offenders.
In the past it was all too easy for the authorities to dismiss illegal fishing and other dodgy activities as small fry when it came to tackling crime. After all, apart from anglers, who cares about “a few fish” going missing?
Of course, look a little deeper and it is rarely that simple. The “small fish” investigated often turn out to be a lot more serious offenders, connected to broader organised crime. But with bold current initiatives in training nearly 500 Angling Trust Voluntary Bailiffs and closer cooperation with the police and Environment Agency, the net is closing on the crooks that threaten freshwater fisheries. Here are five of the most remarkable recent cases.
1. To catch a killer
Catching the most serious criminals sometimes begins with the simplest of observations and a quick message or phone call. Such was the case with the angler who reported a group of poachers using a suspicious car, who noted its registration and got in touch with Angling Trust enforcement staff.
The information was passed to police and bingo! – it transpired that the vehicle was being used by a wanted murderer on the run from mainland Europe, who was shortly tracked down and arrested.
2. Barbel in the bath!?
As any experienced police officer will tell you, crimes are often connected. Those found fly tipping or selling dodgy goods are frequently also involved in drug trafficking, robbery and goodness knows what else. But officers have to know what they are looking for.
Credit therefore, to the police officer who attended a domestic violence incident where they smelled something fishy going on in the background. Quite literally, because there in the bath at the property were several barbel, recently stolen from the nearby river!
Having attended Angling Trust fisheries enforcement event with local anglers, the officer immediately knew that this was an offence. So, along with charges for assault, the “gentleman” in question was also successfully prosecuted and fined for another offence that could easily have been missed.
3. A farewell to arms
Besides fish, the nation’s rivers, canals and other waterways are also a natural magnet for undesirables to hide all kinds of illegal evidence. Anglers and local bailiffs are always on the look out for set lines, illegal nets and other items, but every so often they get a more sinister surprise.
Such was the case with Voluntary Bailiffs near Reading, who found deadly firearms hidden on the riverbank! Items including a magnum handgun and an Uzi could not be traced forensically to a known offender, and so we will never know if they were the property of an organised criminal gang or even terrorists. However, three lethal weapons fewer on England’s streets is still a fantastic result.
4. Carpe Diem
Non-anglers are often amazed at the value of large carp. Every year, stocks are stolen from fisheries or even smuggled between countries by organised criminals. These activities wreck livelihoods and threaten the very health of our fisheries. All the more vital, therefore, that border guards and security staff are well briefed about fisheries crimes.
The biggest of all cases came in 2010, however, when 120 large carp of up to fifty pounds were seized at Dover. With individual fish valued at thousands a piece, the black market value of these creatures was thought to be around £250, 000.
5. The true cost of illegal fishing?
Dodgy netting and trapping on rivers is often far more than a case of taking “one or two for the table”. Organised, career criminals can be involved, with fish sold on the black market and untold damage done to our waterways if they are not stopped.
One criminal still counting the cost of his illegal fishing is Plymouth’s Shane Barton, to the tune of over £100, 000. A multi-agency approach piecing together dozens of reports and previous offences was key, putting paid to his illicit activities in Christchurch Harbour and other locations with a confiscation order of £104,147! The previously convicted benefit fraudster lost not only his illegal nets but his assets under the Proceeds of Crime Act. In fact, he was given just three months to pay the first £5000 or face prison.
The less obvious part of the story is how the Angling Trust’s Fisheries Enforcement Support Service (FESS) team have been instrumental in briefing the Criminal Justice System, including the Magistrates’ Association and Crown Prosecution Service, on fisheries crime. Whereas once the courts had little idea about appropriate sentencing, they are now much more aware of the huge cost to angling and livelihoods. Hence rather than a “slap on the wrist”, more cases are resulting in hefty fines and prison sentences.
The fight against fisheries crime goes on…
With so many miles of water to protect, safeguarding our fisheries is an ongoing challenge. But while there are still issues to face, the way we tackle crimes and deter offenders has been completely transformed in the past few years.
Joined up thinking: Voluntary bailifs join Police and EA staff
The ‘FESS’, headed up by our National Enforcement Manager, retired West Mercia police officer Dilip Sarkar MBE, includes six Regional Enforcement Managers and an Intelligence Managers – all of whom are also highly experienced former police officers. All involved know full well the policing theory and processes required to address fisheries crime, not least partnership working and ensuring that anglers report incidents and information – enabling our empowered partners to translate this into positive action.
Intelligence is everything in this game – and our near 500 strong Voluntary Bailiff Service has, in less than a year, submitted over 250 intelligence logs to the police and Environment Agency. This is helping quantify the issue in an unprecedented way – a way that truly counts (moaning and whinging on Facebook has no effect!).
With FESS-initiated Operations like TRAVERSE and LEVIATHAN now covering virtually the whole of England and Wales, involving most of the 43 police forces, this has directly led to a better appreciation of the problem and increasing support from partners being made available to the Environment Agency.
And it’s all funded by freshwater coarse and trout licences!
Play your part for angling…
Of course, in spite of improvements there are still key issues and trouble spots to tackle, which is why it is so important that all anglers serve as eyes and ears for fisheries. Reporting offences and sharing intelligence remains a huge priority and the message of the Angling Trust is simple: If you see something that shouldn’t be happening, report it! Don’t leave it to someone else or just complain without recording it, because it is only with your information that action can be taken. Reports are crucial in establishing patterns and allocating staff to deal with offences; if it only goes as far as Facebook or a conversation in the pub, it may as well not have happened!
So, if you care about your local fisheries and want to do your bit in helping to be part of the solution, the mantra for angling is simple: Stop moanin, get phonin!
It is always wise to store the Environment Agency Incident hotline on your mobile (0800 80 70 60), to report poaching or other illegal activities. You should also be sure to tell the police that a crime is being committed- click here for our current guide to reporting fisheries offences. You might also want to attend a Fisheries Enforcement Workshop in your area, which are a wealth of useful information and advice – with FREE training provided by policing and fisheries enforcement professionals!
Of course, should you want to play a greater part in protecting your local fisheries, perhaps you could also join the Voluntary Bailiff Service (VBS)? It’s free to train and gives you invaluable knowledge and skills to play your part. To be considered for the next wave of recruitment, you could also contact the scheme’s Admin Officer: firstname.lastname@example.org