Angling Trust VBS

Fighting back against fisheries crime: How you can help!

We all want to see healthy fish stocks and safe fisheries, but what can angling as a whole do to help? The short answer is that it’s up to all of us to keep our eyes and ears open and report anything suspicious. This month, Gary Thomas, the National Intelligence Manager for the Angling Trust Fisheries Enforcement Support Service (FESS), tells us more about why it’s so important for anglers to do their bit and how an intelligence-led approach can make a big difference.

Rural poachers wildlife fisheries crime
Rural crime is serious and often connected to wider organised crime, but anglers can help.


“Like many of the Angling Trust’s FESS team, I’m a former police officer with over thirty years’ service during which I worked in a number of roles, including CID and Intelligence. Having this knowledge of real world policing throughout our team can only help when it comes to fighting fisheries crime. My work in the Intelligence Department dealt with all aspects of police intelligence, such as covert operations, surveillance and the managing and running of police informants. This broad experience in criminal intelligence and its use in combatting crime can also be of huge benefit to the angling world.

What does intelligence have to do with fishing? What does it mean to the typical angler?

So, what does intelligence have to do with fishing? How does it help protect fish, and what exactly does the word ‘intelligence’ mean?

Firstly, to answer that let’s look at some background information. Several years ago, all UK police forces adopted a strategic model known as the National Intelligence Model (NIM) in order to deal with crime. The NIM directs police forces, through their intelligence units, to identify which crimes are most affecting the local community and who is committing these offences.

Intelligence is gathered specifically relating to the identified problem and the individuals involved. This vital information can come from a huge range of sources and members of the public, such as anglers, are vital. When we say that anglers are the “eyes and ears” of the water, this is exactly what we mean!

Obviously police or enforcement staff cannot be everywhere at once, so getting good intelligence saves a huge amount of time and allows the police to operate far more efficiently and identify which tactics to use and where to deploy them to prevent further offences and arrest those responsible.

In simple terms, it means resources are used smartly and effectively. The key to ensuring this is intelligence. So, in an angling context, a network of individuals at clubs and fisheries, all providing information, means that we can build up a much better picture of what’s going on, pinpointing the spots where issues exist and who is involved.

EA emergency hotline number fisheries crime report
We’ll look further at how crimes are reported shortly, but this is exactly why it’s so important for every single angler to call in any incidents, using the number on the back of their rod licence (0800 807060)!

With a fishery facing a poaching issue, for example, if every sighting or incident is called in, enforcement staff quickly build a picture of what is happening and details such as the times and individuals involved. We can then act without wasting time scratching for evidence or patrolling “blind”. Whereas if nobody or only very few anglers report issues (or only report them on Facebook!), we are far less able to act effectively because we only know comparatively little.

What is rural crime and why does it matter?

Crime and criminals are constantly adapting and in recent years there has been a huge increase in Rural Crime. Rural Crime ranges from the theft of farm machinery and livestock to hare coursing, badger baiting and poaching – including fish theft and illegal fishing.

[IMAGE 2] Police and Environment Agency Fisheries Enforcement Officers on Joint Patrol W750px

It is essential to understand that almost all such crimes are connected to wider offences. The people stealing fish, for example, may also be fly tipping, or dealing in stolen goods, or involved in any number of other harmful activities. Very often they also involve larger, organised crime – and this has a huge impact on rural communities. The more of the public who understand this the better, as it then becomes everyone’s responsibility and not just a case of “a few fish” as they might see it!

Bags of dumped cannabis plants recovered from the River Nene W750px
The reporting of rural and fisheries crimes also brings to light other illegal activities and finds, such as this haul of drugs! For some of the more startling finds resulting from fishery patrols and angler intelligence our blog post on Amazing Enforcement Wins has some real eye-openers, from firearms to stolen vehicles!

The key to preventing this criminal activity and protecting both fish and other associated wildlife, and fisheries generally, is intelligence – based on the principals of the NIM explained above. Crucial to the success of this is the sharing of intelligence between the various law enforcement bodies such as the police and the Environment Agency (EA) and other non-government organisations, such as the FESS.


So how does this actually work?

The FESS assists the EA and police in a multi-agency approach to protecting fish and fisheries by working to prevent unlawful angling, poaching and theft of fish. A major part of this response includes coordinating the Voluntary Bailiff Service (VBS) – a veritable army of volunteers throughout England, funded by English freshwater licences – mainly supporting the police and EA Fisheries Enforcement Officers in an ‘eyes and ears’ capacity.

Northants, River Nene poachers fish traps W750px
A stash of illegal nets, no longer in use thanks to intelligence provided by anglers!

Volunteer Bailiffs are managed by six Regional Enforcement Managers across the country and are trained to record and report any suspicious activity they hear or see to a high evidential standard. In other words, the VBS are vital when it comes to gathering information from anglers, clubs and fisheries on the ground. This intelligence is then shared and collected so we can use it. Each regional manager, upon receipt of any information, whether from a member of the VBS or other means, submits a report to me with details of the information received.

What happens to the information we receive?

How we handle intelligence is vital- but suffice to say, all reports of suspicious and illegal activity from voluntary bailiffs or the public are of great value to us. Upon starting my position in the FESS, I set up a legally secure intelligence system based on those used by the police. Security and the safety of any person providing information is paramount, not only for the confidence of those providing the information and the credibility of the system, but this is also a legal responsibility.

First of all, it’s important that those giving us information are kept safe. We want people to come forward with confidence that they won’t be put at risk. Upon receipt of an information report, firstly, I log the report and allocate a unique reference number, replacing the person’s name who has provided the information. This ensures that the person cannot be identified from the report and beside the informant themselves, the regional manager and myself are the only ones who will ever know who has provided the information.

Angling Trust VBS
We always handle intelligence with great care. Every report counts and helps to inform bailiffing in your area.

I then assess and grade the information using the same process used by the police, as to the credibility of the informant and the importance of the information. If the information is acceptable, I then convert it into an intelligence log, grading it and directing the specific person – such as the relevant Fisheries Enforcement Officer – it needs to go to. If the intelligence is particularly important or sensitive, I can specify extra security conditions to further protect the intelligence and informant. If the intelligence relates to other reports previously received, I can link these incidents together.

Once I have completed the above, I then send the intelligence log via a secure process directly to the EA Intelligence Unit and to the relevant police force Intelligence Unit and Wildlife Crime Officer for their information. The information in the intelligence log is then put onto the EA intelligence system and the relevant police force intelligence system. The intelligence enables individual EA Fisheries Enforcement Officers and Police Wildlife Officers to know what is happening in their area and to then carry out actions to prevent and disrupt illegal activity.

How successful has it been?

Police and EA FEO Haysden Park 12 Feb 2020 W750px
Every piece of accurate intelligence matters! Even if we cannot catch the offenders on the day, information is carefully logged and shared between agencies.

Over the past three years I have submitted 600+ intelligence logs to the EA and UK police forces. It is important to note that these logs, beside fish related matters, have covered a vast range of other wildlife and related Rural Crime. Examples include the recovery of quantities of drugs, the use of explosives to kill fish, criminals involved in organising badger baiting, illegal dumping of waste, specific intelligence about a convicted organised crime member, hare coursing, illegal hunting and other various Wildlife Crime amongst other offences relating to wider criminality.

All of these have been sent directly to the relevant Police forces and EA Fisheries Enforcement Officers to help build a clearer picture of issues in specific areas, enabling them to plan action and efficiently dedicate resources to prevent and disrupt any illegal activity as explained at the start.

In respect of those fishing illegally or stealing fish, the intelligence logs enable EA Fisheries Enforcement Officers to concentrate where the most problems are occurring in their region. They can then deploy their patrols and activities with confidence to those areas of rivers and waters that have been found to be most in need of their attention.

 How can you help to combat fisheries crime?

I hope I have been able to explain how intelligence works and shown how important it is in combatting and preventing both fishing related offending and wider Wildlife and Rural Crime. Most importantly I hope I have shown how extensive Rural Crime is and how the different types of Wildlife Crime are often linked and organised.

VBS, Police, EA Joint Patrol Kent June 2019 W750px
With accurate information, we can work with the police and EA to crack down on crime.

There are two key elements in ensuring intelligence is effective in making an impact on all Wildlife Crime. One of these is ensuring that intelligence is shared between all of those involved in tackling crime of this nature.

The second is relevant to anyone reading this. If you hear or have any information relating to Fisheries Crime, Rural and Wildlife Crime and wider criminality, no matter how trivial you may consider it, please, ensure you report it! Intelligence is like a jigsaw puzzle – and the tiniest insignificant piece could be the crucial bit missing. As we say in the FESS – ‘If it’s not reported, it has not happened’!


As with any crime intelligence, it is vitally important to report as accurately as you can. The four simple questions: Who? Where? When? How? are a useful starting point here. Obviously we do not want anglers putting themselves at risk, but including details such as the exact time and location, accurate descriptions of what happened and visual identifiers of individuals and equipment and vehicles, etc, is hugely helpful and could make the difference between a missed chance and a successful prosecution.

The more incidents that are reported by anglers, the more information is gained, making the intelligence picture clearer both on both a regional and national scale, short and long-term. This provides an invaluable guide to the enforcement agencies in highlighting the scale of the problems faced, pinpointing fisheries crime hotspots and enabling the efficient allocation and deployment of resources in response.

Incidents of illegal fishing should be reported to the Environment Agency incident number (0800 80 70 60) and also the Police (on 101 to report a crime that does not require an emergency response, or 999 to report a crime in progress).

It’s also worth noting here that social media is not the place to share sensitive intelligence! Sharing something on Facebook does not mean it will reach the right people; and in fact, it could even harm the chances of successful action taking place. So please, try to refrain from using social media to share such information and instead report those key details to the EA hotline and the enforcement team.

Please do not hesitate to contact your Regional Enforcement Manager for professional enforcement advice. Contact details can be found on the Angling Trust Website, or at the end of this blog post:

Tight lines!

Gary Thomas

National Intelligence Manager, Fisheries Enforcement Support Service
Angling Trust & Environment Agency Partnership

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




4 thoughts on “Fighting back against fisheries crime: How you can help!

  1. Dom May I have your permission to re-publish the material in this post in the next edition of Barbel Fisher, the bi-annual magazine of the Barbel Society.

    Chris Jones Editor of Barbel Fisher For the Barbel Society

    Sent from my iPhone


    1. Hi Chris. Sure, no problem. It all helps when it comes to getting anglers to provide intelligence and protect their waters.
      If you could just be sure to credit the Angling Trust and perhaps include a quick mention of our website along these lines, that would be much appreciated:

      For more information about the work of the Angling Trust Fisheries Enforcement Support Service visit:’.

      Many thanks
      Dom Garnett

    1. Thanks Martin- and credit for you for doing your bit. We know most of us, as anglers, would rather be fishing than reporting incidents, but every bit of intelligence helps and if we all play our part it can make a big difference.

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