From drunkenness to damaging property, a minority of anglers can cause serious issues on any public water. So how can clubs and fisheries work with enforcement staff to counter typical issues? Dominic Garnett reports on some of the ways angling can give bad behaviour the boot.
Given that most of us go fishing for peace and relaxation, it’s something of a cruel irony that antisocial behaviour should sometimes blight the sport. When the godfather of Angling himself, Izaak Walton, waxed lyrical about the “quiet, calm and innocent recreation” we love, he presumably hadn’t tackled up on a dicey urban river, or watched two lads unloading their own bodyweight in lager along with their rods and reels.
We might smile wryly about some of the antics that go on then (and I should point out that above picture was staged for one of my articles on angling vices!), but on some waters the reality is no laughing matter. Whether it is lower level criminality, such as littering and disturbing the peace, or more serious offences such as dangerous or drug induced behaviour, just about any public fishery can be affected.
All too regularly, such incidents go unreported or are brushed off because they take place in rural or remote locations. However, such antics can have serious further implications, besides ruining our enjoyment. So how can angling fight back?
Joining forces: Anglers, the police and the VBS
In an era when funding is stretched, the eyes and ears of anglers are more important than ever. So are close working relations between fisheries alongside local law enforcement services, the Environment Agency and Voluntary Bailiff Service (VBS). In short, a joined-up, intelligence-led model is exactly the approach of the Angling Trust’s Fisheries Enforcement team to counter unacceptable behaviour.
Ben Pessl (middle) joins SW Regional Enforcement Manager Nevin Hunter (left) on a visit to White Acres, a great example of a safe, well run fishery.
A keen angler himself, Newquay based Ben Pessl is both a PCSO and a trained member of the VBS. He’s seen the effects of antisocial behaviour at fisheries first hand, playing a key role in helping to address problems.
“People can and do simply turn up at fisheries without warning” he says. “While most anglers behave, a minority get drunk and rowdy, leave the place a tip, or worse. Others are just unable to share the water without getting into aggressive tit for tat arguments.”
“Sometimes, if it’s novice anglers for example, issues like excess noise or litter can be a lack of education- and it’s part of our role to raise awareness of what’s acceptable,” says Ben. “Other times though, you wouldn’t believe some of the excuses!”
A large, rural county such as Cornwall provides its own set of challenges, as he is quick to admit. “We can’t be everywhere. That’s why the intelligence we get is so important. We rely on anglers and I can’t stress enough how vital it is to call incidents in and use the right channels; it’s no good just putting something on Facebook or having a moan two weeks later.”
Close, multi-agency cooperation, along with the use of technology to share intelligence is certainly a huge step forward- provided anglers play their part. “We can’t always be there instantly, but the more information the better,” says Ben. “If the reports are there we get a much sharper picture of what’s happening and can focus our efforts where it’s needed.”
Anti-social behaviour on the bank
What are the most common issues that crop up at fisheries? Some of them occur time and again, sadly, along with some more eye-opening and serious offences. Too often we brush it off or turn the other cheek, too, when much of it should be reported. After all, loutish or unacceptable behaviour is no joke and can be connected to serious organised crime.
A quick straw poll of anglers will usually bring up recurring themes, sadly, which we ignore at our peril. After all, every year these are aggravating factors in fishing being banned from public locations across the UK. By ignoring them, we give the louts responsible our silent permission to continue! Here’s an unofficial big 5 types of antisocial behaviour that bug most of us while we’re out fishing:
Of course, the File under “You couldn’t make it up”! Most bailiffs and fishery owners will have a story or three in this category, whether it’s a drunken swimming spree in deep water or even sex workers visiting night anglers (no, really)! Other cases have involved firearms and even wanted murderers, as our previous “Amazing Fisheries Enforcement Wins” blog reveals.
As for how fisheries and clubs can protect their waters, fisheries and those who help protect them will agree that it’s all about fostering good relationships. Of course, it’s a two way street and fisheries can also do their bit by logging and recording anything suspicious or illegal, as our man Ben points out.
“It’s often knowing who to call in your area and building those connections” he says. “With the best will in the world, not all police staff know the ins and outs of fishing, so it’s always a good move establish who has that knowledge in your area. The VBS can help bridge that gap, too, and help make police staff better aware of the issues around fishing.”
Fisheries can also help their cause by setting clear rules and expectations, but this also has to be backed up. On his patch, for example, Ben has worked closely with White Acres fishery, thanks to regular information sharing and site visits.
“Visibility can be important, too” he says. “If I can be there at key times and visitors see me and my vehicle, that helps.” The results at White Acres have been plain to see; not only has there been a crackdown on unacceptable behaviour, but serious crimes such as tackle theft have almost been entirely eradicated. A win-win for fishery and anglers alike.
As for the world of social media, Ben has mixed feelings. While he insists that Facebook and Twitter are no place to report crimes, sharing things like fishery visits and bailiffing duties can be very helpful. “Social media can have its uses,” says Ben “it can definitely put out the message that we’re out on the bank and that poor behaviour isn’t an option. Anglers like seeing enforcement in action, too. They like to have that trust in their fishery.”
Countering Antisocial Behaviour: Tips for Anglers and Fisheries
1. Report it!
Rule number one with any unacceptable behaviour is to report it! Just because it is taking place outdoors at a fishery, this doesn’t make it any less of a crime. Whether it’s drunken behaviour or damage to property, it needs to be reported. Do this in person and avoid using social media to share reports, because this could jeopardise any further investigation.
For more minor issues, the fishery owner or Head Bailiff should be your first port of call. For all more serious matters, inform the police. If it is a fish theft, as opposed to antisocial behaviour, here are the Angling Trust guidelines for reporting.
2. Set clear rules and consequences and make them visible.
Granted, so nobody should need to a reminder not to litter or drink excessively. Nobody should need to take up four swims or use abusive language either. You might argue that we could use a whole new code of fishing etiquette, but that’s another story! What’s obvious, though, is that clear signposting and sensible rules help to set expectations and indicate that a fishery is well run and regularly patrolled.
3. Communication is key
This applies not only to fisheries and clubs dealing with visitors, but between the anglers themselves. Often, it is a lack of clear communication in the early stages that leads to escalation. Whenever you feel like boundaries are crossed or respect is missing, keep calm and speak to your neighbours. Being polite and friendly can make all the difference. Avoid foul or threatening language at all costs.
4. Build connections
How well do you know the relevant staff in your area? Who are your nearest Voluntary Bailiffs and Environment Agency staff? Who are your local police officers? Safe fisheries and successful outcomes are based on good relationships and information sharing.
5. Stay safe and protect your property
While it is important for anglers to report issues, it is vital this is done safely. Under no circumstances should you put yourself at risk where threatening or dangerous individuals are concerned. In terms of protecting your property, another sensible move is to apply SmartWater to your equipment. This simple, brush-on product makes stolen gear easily trackable and results in a much higher chance of retrieving equipment and securing prosecutions. Angling Trust members can buy a special fishing pack for just £10: CLICK HERE.
6. Fisheries can play their part
By reporting any illegal activity and communicating with local VBs and police, fisheries can also do their bit for crime prevention. Of course, they can also do their bit to remind anglers to have a rod licence before they fish.
Further reading and information
For more details on the Angling Trust’s work on protecting waters in your area, see our website’s Fisheries Enforcement section. Better still, we run special Fisheries Enforcement Workshops in every region of England every year; these are free, anyone can attend and are an excellent source of practical advice when it comes to keeping your local waters safe, whether you are a fishery owner, club committee member or just a keen angler who wants to do their bit.
For further information on the Voluntary Bailiff Service, which now has almost 500 trained individuals covering every region of England, click here.