How the Angling Trust is playing its part in the protection of fish and fisheries
If you’re ever sitting at your favourite peg, minding your own business and you spot a police officer walking towards you; don’t panic. (As long as you’re not doing anything you shouldn’t. Obviously.)
The chances are it’s someone from the Rural Crime Team; a division of the Police Service that’s focused on erm… rural crime.
From an angling perspective, that could be anything from fishing without a licence, to using illegal, sometimes dangerous equipment or the unlawful taking of fish from the water.
If you’ve got your licence and you’re fishing appropriately, then of course, you have nothing to fear from angling’s Enforcement Team. But those who do indeed have something to worry about, shouldn’t be fooled into thinking the uniform is the only giveaway because it’s not only people dressed in police livery who are looking for the dodgers and the lawbreakers. The gentle amble of someone in civvies walking their dog could be just as much a threat to those doing something they shouldn’t as any advancing uniform.
The lawful protection of our fisheries and fish stocks comes in many guises and Enforcement is a project that’s undertaken collaboratively between the Angling Trust, the Environment Agency and the Police Service.
The Trust’s ever-growing number of people assisting through the Volunteer Bailiff Service and the EA’s own staff all contribute to the overall enforcement group and while there may be a logo and an identity card confirming they’re a Trust or Agency representative, their only uniform is that of the countryside. (You have been warned).
The basic aim, however, is not to deceive and punish but educate and deter. Sometimes anglers simply need up-to-date information on the laws and byelaws and this can be served directly or through clubs and private waters. But when deception is clearly afoot, there’s no option but to act.
There’s one other thing you should know. If you ever get the feeling you never ‘see’ anything happening to protect our sport, don’t assume wider enforcement work isn’t active in your area. Most of the time, you might not witness anything at all because in certain situations, representatives of Fisheries Enforcement are trained not to approach; merely to report. It’s why the training days that are regularly held across the country are so important.
One such day was held recently at the Welham Trout Fishery in Ellerburn, North Yorkshire where the Trust’s volunteer bailiffs and enforcement staff joined up with EA representatives and officers from the Rural Crime Team for a day of overall education, general fact-finding and practical exercises by the waterside.
Items such as the identification of illegal nets, lines and traps, information on Rod Licence types and how the Theft Act relates to private fisheries were all on the agenda.
For example, fishing without a membership or day ticket on a privately owned stretch of river or fishery is a ‘theft of fishing rights’ offence which could potentially lead you to court and a criminal record. Anyone who thinks they’ll just get a cheery reminder to ‘buy one next time’ might be in for a shock.
Another key element at Ellerburn was the contribution from the Trust’s Building Bridges project with a session to highlight integration of the migrant angling communities and help enforcement staff to assist with an understanding of England’s angling laws and customs.
Ellerburn’s programme of events was run by Trust Regional Enforcement Manager, Kevin Woodcock, who’s been passionate about angling and the law ever since an unexpected discovery convinced him to act and ultimately, to get involved.
“I stumbled across a line in the water on the River Wear,” says Kevin. “Being nosey, I pulled up the line and there was a net with half a dozen sea trout. So, I reported it, the old water bailiffs came out and that was my introduction.
“At the Ellerburn session, we went through various workstations where the EA gave their input on lines, traps and snares and as the Trust, we provided information on what we do theft-act wise. It gives the officers on the ground a knowledge of what can and can’t be done.”
Training days have also been held in Cumbria and in the South-East region where three events have been staged solely for the Police. Each of them, under the watchful eye of Regional Enforcement Support Manager, Dave Wilkins.
“Our purpose here has been to focus on police officers primarily who are in the Rural Crime Teams,” says Dave. “Most of them are not anglers and probably would know little of the specific legislation. Put it this way, I was a senior police officer for thirty years and been an angler for over 50 years and I didn’t know.”
One, often overlooked element of angling is the monetary value of fish and fish stocks and the annual turnover for angling clubs who rely on membership and day tickets to finance the ongoing health of their waters. One club in the south-east recently confirmed to a training day audience that their annual turnover was more than a million pounds. If that sort of income is threatened by poaching, theft of fishing rights and theft of stock it can make a hefty dent in the onward management – and ultimate quality – of the sport and the environment in general.
“The ‘angling economy’ is a phrase we often use,” says Dave. “Angling has an annual turnover across the country that’s not too dissimilar to the horse racing industry. If you start looking at a large money-making enterprise, there is the potential for organised crime.”
As well as targeting crime, there’s another side to the Enforcement project too. Sometimes, it can protect anglers from themselves.
During one patrol in stormy winter weather, volunteer bailiff, Tony Jakes was able to intervene when he spotted a young novice angler in a potentially dangerous floodwater situation in Cambridgeshire. The teenage boy was clearly inadequately dressed for the harsh weather and Tony approached and explained the dangers of fishing the flooded waters. At the time, they were flowing fast and coloured at around 6ft above normal levels and were still rising following recent heavy rain and snow.
After pointing out the dangers from powerful currents and hazardous footing, Tony was able to persuade the boy to pack away his tackle and call home to arrange a lift. Sometimes, checking for miscreants can provide unexpected support to those in need.
But the main thrust of Training Days and enforcement programmes is the protection of lawful and pleasurable fishing. And by the way, that person walking the bank in civvies we talked about earlier might not even be a volunteer bailiff or from the Environment Agency. They could simply be a member of the public who has every right to make an anonymous report if they catch someone, or just suspects them of doing something they shouldn’t. One day of course, that casual rambler making a call could be you.
It’s important to realise that even allowing for training days and onward vigilance from an official body of people, much of the positive work to reduce angling crime at any level relies on information received. It’s a simple fact of life that volunteers, officials and police officers can’t be in all places at all times, so anonymously reported activity is as important – if not more so – than training days that ultimately provide positive, lawful intervention.
So, if you see something suspicious, support the Training Days and the people on them by reporting it immediately to the hotline number; 0800 807060.
This number is on the back of your licence.
Assuming of course, you have one.