Fisheries Enforcement: How far we’ve come!

In the past decade, angling has made huge strides against fisheries crime. With the establishment of the Voluntary Bailiff Service (VBS) and multi-agency work with police and the Environment Agency, real progress has been made, but are you doing your bit? The Angling Trust’s National Enforcement Manager Dilip Sarkar reflects on our journey so far and the challenges we still face, along with an update on the Coronavirus situation and some pre-lockdown fishing highlights. 

“Not so very long ago, ‘Fisheries Crime’, as I defined it in 2012, was not even seen as a ‘thing’.  There was little or no appreciation of how crime revolving around angling and fisheries fitted within a much bigger picture of great interest to the police.

What a difference we see today, then, as the police and courts accept the seriousness of fisheries crime. They recognise, for example, that fishing without permission is a criminal offence and therefore a police matter; they see that fish in still-waters can be reduced into property and stolen. They also clearly see the importance to angling of rod licence compliance.

Dilip Sarkar pike fishing
Dilip displays a welcome 17-pounder from the end of the season. Like virtually all our enforcement staff and volunteers, he is a keen angler first and foremost.

In short, there is now a far greater appreciation of the angling community’s concerns and issues, and a willingness to work with us. The world of policing revolves around incoming information, and it is better understood that the angling community are eyes and ears, particularly in rural areas, able to report what we see and hear, and help keep everyone and their property safe. There’s so much more at stake than “a few fish”!

I would strongly argue that the angling community was  hitherto a largely untapped source of ‘intelligence’, with so much potential information to share when targeting problem areas, key issues and offenders. For that reason alone, the police fully recognise the benefits of engaging with us.

Eye-opening truths: From fish theft to organised crime

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Dilip Sarkar, National Enforcement Manager, (left) with Chief Constable Darren Martland, National Policing Lead on Rural & Wildlife Crime, and Dave Lees, North West Regional Enforcement Manager.

One thing that has been a real eye-opener for non-anglers has been the financial value of large carp, the negative effect of fish theft on businesses and demonstrable links to Organised Crime. The angling community’s ability to keep watch and provide intelligence are, in fact, our key selling points – firmly aimed at increasing the support from policing partners for the Environment Agency – which remains the statutory lead on fisheries enforcement.

Policing is, of course, a massive (and thankless!) task with countless priorities yet dwindling resources. Trying to keep everyone briefed all of the time is an impossibility – but because of branding like Operations TRAVERSE, LEVIATHAN and CLAMPDOWN, we are able to continue raising awareness. In effect, the Fisheries Enforcement Support Service exists as a bridge between the angling community, police and EA, able to provide  professional, expert, advice, keep everyone connected and informed, and put things right if necessary.

We have a sound and comprehensive strategy based upon extensive personal policing experience and knowledge of policing priorities and processes – and it is because of the professional policing experience and impeccable policing reputations of my team that we have been able to manoeuvre Fisheries Crime from a nonentity to the FESS being a prime mover in regional crime forums, at various policing conferences, and providing training to magistrates and the police.

We have harnessed a huge amount of intelligence from our very own (superb) Voluntary Bailiff Service and the wider angling community, securely storing and sharing this in the professional policing format required. This alone saves our partners time in processing this information and ensuring that it is efficiently shared with the right officers. This unique and significant contribution has earned us – the angling community – enormous respect from enforcement professionals. Remember that we of the FESS are anglers first and policing professionals second. We do what we do because we are passionately committed to making a difference – for angling and protecting fish and fisheries.

Recently, together with Dave Lees, our North West Regional Enforcement Manager, I was invited to meet with Chief Constable Darren Martland of Cheshire Police, the National Police Chiefs’ Council’s National Policing Lead on Rural & Wildlife Crime. Darren has recently taken on this role and was keen to learn more about what we do – and especially how we have achieved what we have in such a comparatively short time and with minimal resources. Dave and I were impressed with ‘The Chief’s’ commitment and vision for rural policing going forward, and entirely confident that Fisheries Crime is well and truly on the map with the country’s Top Cop.

Fighting fisheries crime: are you playing your part?

I could go on, but it is important, I think, that we all understand that there is no miracle cure or overnight fix for our problems. We are playing our part – my question is, are you?

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Are you doing your bit? Every angler should have this number stored on their phone!

We are repeatedly frustrated because although we constantly share information and guidance, both in person and through the written word, online and otherwise, anglers do not always engage with issues the right way. Time and time again, it is clear that anglers complaining or going off on a tangent have failed to engage with the process and are simply unaware of the vast amount of work being done to improve the service provided to anglers by the police and EA.

Today, many people are still unable to grasp how the VBS works. No-one is more exasperated than I am that we are capped at 500 by the EA, and that Phase 2, in which our volunteers are empowered and embedded in EA teams, is taking so long to come in. It is live, however, in the South East region, and currently being extended into parts of East Anglia. This, however, is all beyond our control as the EA make those decisions.

What I would say is that we have always been playing the long game, never deviating course or changing our resolve to get to where we believe things need to be to appropriately protect fish and fisheries in the future. It is so important that we all, as anglers, understand what is happening and why, and support the process.

Constantly we still have to tell people to call in incidents and information, either to the police (101 or 999 as appropriate) or the EA (0800 80 70 60, the number is on your rod licence!). Those calls evidence the extent of a problem, apart from anything else, so if the calls are not made, the picture is not accurate, and the issue will never be prioritised – and that is how the system works. Please don’t share it on social media where you are likely to hinder or compromise any action taken: just call it in to the police and EA! It really is that simple.


Less than twenty?!

To give you an example of anglers not coming forward often enough, I will leave you with this…

We hear a lot about how bad things are in Lincolnshire, which, as a pike angler (as coincidentally are most of my staff, including Eastern Regional Enforcement Manager Paul Thomas) I am very concerned about and determined to take action over . That is why, working with Lincolnshire Police and the EA we launched Operation TRAVERSE in November 2014. That force also leads Operation GALILLEO, targeting hare coursing, and in 2015 I asked PC Nick Willey, the Force Lead on GALLILEO and TRAVERSE, how many calls per annum the control room took on hare coursing; “Over 2,000”, Nick replied.

“How many on fisheries issues?” was my next question.

“Less than twenty”.

To coin a phrase, I was gobsmacked. Less than twenty calls in a year in no way reflects the actual level of offending in Lincolnshire. No way. But… so far as the authorities are concerned, that represents the problem’s extent – and consequently we are lucky to have TRAVERSE or any police attention at all.

I will find out, for my next blog, whether that figure has increased – I would certainly hope so, because as we always say, ‘If it wasn’t reported, it didn’t happen’. Report it. Please. It’s so simple! If you do so, but do not receive an appropriate level of service, let me know and my team will liaise with the police or EA on your behalf and get things put right. Very often, if the evidence is there, it is possible to investigate things historically, after the event, and achieve prosecutions. So, please let us know if we can help.

What about fishery patrols during the lockdown?

Of course, another current question we’re often being asked is how we continue to take action to protect fisheries and combat crime during the lockdown. We fully appreciate anglers’ concerns over the protection of fisheries throughout this difficult time, so let us be clear. The National Policing Lead on Rural & Wildlife Crime’s Staff Officer has confirmed that protecting fisheries is fundamental to preserving the UK’s infrastructure, and that visits to patrol waterways are therefore essential – providing that the frequency and length of journeys involved is both ‘reasonable’ and ‘proportionate’.

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Protecting fisheries is most certainly an “essential” activity, hence patrols will continue within the current government guidelines.

We are allowed to travel a ‘reasonable’ distance to exercise – providing the resulting exercise is longer than the journey involved. No definition is provided as to what is ‘reasonable’, because this would vary from case to case. For example, walking out of my front door to reach the River Teme, five minutes’ walk away, then downstream to the confluence with the Severn, and along that river to West Diglis and back home again, allowing me to keep a watchful eye on both Worcester Angling Society water and my own stretch of the Severn at East Diglis, takes around an hour. A circular walk and my daily exercise. This is clearly reasonable and proportionate. It would not be if I had to drive, say, 50 miles to do that walk, or if I did the walk several times a day.

In this respect, therefore, we are allowed to use common-sense, and the police will use discretion when enforcing CV-19 legislation and restrictions. Obviously fisheries must be protected – and there is no reason why we cannot do this given the foregoing information. Incidents and information should still be reported during lockdown, to the police in the first instance. Should anyone require any further advice or clarification, please contact your Regional Enforcement Manager.


Looking back: a successful end to the pike season

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Heading out: 14 March 2020.

Back on the fishing front, owing to other life priorities, I only managed to get out once last season, on the last day, going afloat on a swollen Worcestershire river with my pal Steve Watts. I first took Steve out on our old boat some years ago, on the Severn, and he enjoyed it so much that he bought his own!

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Please put pike back!

Last time I went out with Steve I had a 22.14, three years ago, and this time we enjoyed a great day out, with five pike coming to the boat, the biggest a recently spawned-out 17 to my trotted brown trout dead-bait, just tickling along the marginal shelf. It was a brilliant day, two mates talking about all kinds of topics, lovely weather and a bit of pikey action too. In fact, as enjoyable days go, I’d rank it very highly, so sometimes it’s good to have a break and have the old enthusiasm reignited. We even started talking about angling afloat next season for some of the river’s elusive big carp, but that’s another story.

Pike fishing River Severn
Angling Trust member Steve Watts with the first fish of the day.

So, that’s all for now, folks. During this lock-down period there will be a raft of material being shared by FESS staff, via our new Enforcement Communications Manager Phil Dunne, who plays a key role and is a very welcome addition to our close-knit unit.

Stay safe and remember that if we all work together, we will crack this quicker and the arm of angling will be stronger still.

Let’s hope we can all get out fishing again very soon…. In the meantime, stay at home, save lives.”

Dilip Sarkar MBE

National Enforcement Manager

Fisheries Enforcement Support Service

Contacts for Regional Enforcement Officers:

Nevin Hunter – Regional Enforcement Manager, South West

Dave Lees – Regional Enforcement Manager, North West

Paul Thomas – Regional Enforcement Manager, Eastern England

Dave Wilkins – Regional Enforcement Manager, South East

Mark Gregory – Regional Enforcement Manager, North East

Kevin Pearson – Regional Enforcement Manager, Midlands

Gary Thomas – Intelligence Manager

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