Illegal Fishing And How To Report It

As an angler, all you want is the chance to go fishing. A trip to the waterside never fails to offer the prospect of some decent sport and a hassle-free existence for a few blissful hours.

But what happens when someone spoils it? You’re minding your own business and then suddenly realise that someone close by seems to be doing something they shouldn’t.

It could be the use of illegal methods to catch or trap. You might suspect they don’t have permission to fish the water they’re on or you’ve seen them removing fish from a venue?

What do you do? Simply ignore it, or do you safeguard your own commitment to responsible fishing and decide to report it? Assuming it’s the latter, who do you report it to?

The dilemma in such situations is always sharp. As a law-abiding angler, you’re opposed to what you see, but naturally your inclination is to shy away from getting involved. But in short, you don’t really have to. There are mechanisms in place that allow you to report, retain your anonymity and ultimately preserve your own safety. 

So, if it isn’t Ghostbusters (sorry, but they’re not real….) who you gonna call?

You can obviously inform the rights holder and there is also an Angling Trust Fisheries Enforcement Support Service that works to uphold the laws with a presence on a local basis. But in general terms, they or you, will escalate any suspicions to either the Environment Agency (EA) or the Police for lawful intervention. But which one and when?

Lack Of Fishing Licence

The Law

As an ordinary member of the public, it’s not your question to ask. Since 2009, only EA Fisheries Enforcement Officers, Phase 2 Angling Trust Volunteer Bailiffs, and the Police are warranted and empowered to demand sight of rod licences.

However, a club or controller of fishing rights has the legal right to refuse permission to anyone they do not wish to fish their waters. They can ask to see a person’s licence and refuse permission to an angler if they do not produce a valid licence. It is sensible for owners to include in their rules that all anglers fishing their waters must produce a fishing licence to a club or fishery ‘bailiff’ or their agent. (a ‘Water Keeper’ in law) That person is then authorised to do the appropriate checks. Failure to produce a valid fishing licence after an authorised request could result in internal club discipline proceedings, the matter being reported to the EA for further investigation and potentially, a fine of up to £2,500 upon conviction in the courts.

What You Should Do

If you suspect someone of fishing without a licence, you can inform the rights holder or report your suspicions to the Environment Agency on 0800 80 70 60. Licence compliance is an EA matter. It’s not one for the police.

Let’s be realistic here. A call about a single angler isn’t likely to induce an immediate call-out for inspection. On its own, that piece of information might well deter you from making the call in the first place. But be aware that ALL reports to the hotline number will support an intelligence-led enforcement programme. When patterns emerge, EA & Police enforcement resources are deployed in the areas they are most needed. So while the oft-heard complaint of: “I reported it but nothing ever happens” is entirely understandable, the information from your call will never be wasted. It is logged and from there, the patterns emerge. The EA is not resourced to respond to every call, but ongoing reports from anglers and the consequent creation of that pattern, is vital to the programme.

Theft of Fish – The Law

The act of theft covers all styles of capture, whether by legal rod and line or illegal netting or trapping. If the catch is by illegal means, additional offences are potentially committed.

Stillwaters

Fish that are kept in enclosed still waters of single ownership are legally regarded as Property and are owned. Under this legal categorisation, the taking of fish without permission is therefore theft. For the purposes of clarity, the legal definition of ‘taking’ does not include the act of temporary capture by fair angling means. The intention to permanently deprive an owner of their property, is covered by Sections 1 – 7 of the Theft Act, 1968. Practical examples would include taking ‘one for the pot’, or to re stock a large valuable carp in another water. In both instances the owner is permanently deprived of those fish.

Rivers

In law, fish in rivers are considered wild and free to roam, so are not owned until reduced into property by catching. Fish in rivers cannot, therefore, be stolen. However, although the theft definition does not apply, if fish are taken without the controller of fishing right’s consent, then the Schedule 1 Theft Act offence is made out and can instead be processed.

In this instance, think of Schedule 1 as a ‘theft of fishing rights’ by virtue of taking fish away from the water.

There are other local and national byelaws which the EA Fisheries Enforcement Officers can use. There is also the Salmon Act, which now makes handling any fish in suspicious circumstances an offence.

What You Should Do

Although an individual angler may wish to first inform the rights holder of any suspicions, section 1 theft is a criminal offence dealt with by the police. This is as ruled by the National Police Chief’s Council.

Each case will be different and it is possible to risk assess your response. For minor incidents such as rod & line poaching – and if you consider it safe – you can challenge any suspected poachers in a non-aggressive way, pointing out the legal requirements. If those approached don’t comply and refuse when then asked to leave, then report the matter to the police.

If they leave without issue, you should document the details and share with other club bailiffs in case they return.

If an offence is in progress, the number to dial is 999. Retrospective reporting should be directed to 101. In some areas, a 101 report may be presented online.

Alternatively, incidents can always be reported anonymously to Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.

When reporting any incident, the following information may be considered helpful if available:

  • Time, date and location
  • The number and description of offenders
  • Vehicle registration numbers
  • Tackle and bait used
  • Evidence of fish removal

To support any allegation, fisheries may carry identifiable information about high-value individual specimens such as photographic catalogues that include scale patterns.

In cases of section 1 theft, where rod licence compliance and general fisheries offences are all involved, the Police will work in partnership with the EA to progress an investigation. 

Theft of Fishing Rights

The Law

In simple terms, this is fishing without permission. Permission is usually understood as the granting of a day ticket, seasonal pass or angling club permit. On a ‘free’ stretch of river, permission is not technically still required however the owner of the fishing rights would have been deemed to give permission in allowing free fishing. Where a private right exists and is exercised, fishing without permission is a criminal act under Schedule 1 of the Theft Act, 1968. A valid fishing licence is required in all cases.

The offence is committed whether or not fish have been caught. Fish need not be taken away for the offence to be satisfied. In freshwater, anglers fishing from boats require the same permissions as those angling from the bank.

What You Should Do

This should be reported to the Police, however, in certain circumstances the Environment Agency may act if offences against fisheries legislation are committed and fish are permanently removed.

Each case will be different, but you could of course, consider challenging any suspected poachers in a non-aggressive way, pointing out the legal requirements to fish. If they don’t comply and refuse when then asked to leave, then report the matter to the police. If they leave without issue, just document the details and share with other club bailiffs in case they return.

As ruled by the National Police Chiefs’ Council, fishing without permission should be reported to 999 if the offence is in progress, or via 101.

Alternatively, incidents can be reported to Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.

An investigation will require evidence of:

  • Proof of private rights of fishery
  • Clear signage, preferably multi-lingual, indicating private fishing
  • Time, date, location
  • Description of offender/vehicle/boat
  • Whether a baited line was in the water, kind of tackle

For those wishing to learn more about fishing and the law, a Fisheries Enforcement Workshop will be delivered online on Saturday 12th November.

The session is free to attend and these events are considered an excellent source of information for bailiffs, club representatives and fishery owners.

Full details will shortly be available on the Angling Trust website with updates on our various social media platforms.

For more information on enforcement and education activities in your area and how you can you get in contact with your Local Angling Trust Regional Enforcement Support Manager visit https://anglingtrust.net/enforcement/

For further details about the Environment Agency’s incident reporting visit Report an environmental incident – GOV.UK (www.gov.uk) the 0800 80 70 60 number is a 24hour hotline

All of our fisheries education and enforcement work is funded by fishing licence income and delivered in partnership with the Environment Agency.

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