UK courts are a soft touch when it comes to punishing illegal fishermen, Angling Times can reveal this week.
Last month, nine anglers appeared in Beverley Magistrates’ Court accused of fishing without rod licences and were fined just £25 each, the price of an annual rod licence.
In the same period two Lithuanians were caught electrofishing a stretch of that country’s River Merkys in a national park where no fishing is allowed. Lithuania’s courts fined the pair a total of 8,124.17 Litas – almost £2,000 – for using an illegal fishing method to remove four pike, two chub and a roach.
“Under the law used to prosecute these anglers the fine can be up to 50 times the current minimum weekly wage, or up to 45 days in prison. The penalties for poaching over here can be severe,” explained Andrew Barber, who originally comes from Wisbech in Cambridgeshire, but who now lives in Lithuania where he runs a website (www.wandering-angler.com) explaining British catch-and-release traditions to Lithuanians visiting the UK.
The comparison would appear to make a mockery of the justice system in Britain, which at first glance seems to be letting down the Environment Agency in court after its bailiffs have gone to such great lengths to catch offenders.
Enforcement costs account for the lion’s share of the Agency’s spending of rod-licence revenue, and EA bailiffs are often left frustrated at the leniency of the courts in a lot of cases.
One such bailiff, who wished to remain anonymous, told Angling Times: “It can be very annoying knowing that we’ve worked so hard to catch these illegal anglers only for them to be given trivial fines by the magistrates. We need their full support in our fight against poachers and cheats.”
However, as EA Fisheries licensing manager Martin Stark explained, fines do vary from case to case, with the courts considering a number of factors, including the ability of the offender to pay. Added to that, work is going on behind the scenes to ensure magistrates fully understand the magnitude of some of the cases they handle.
“The Agency receives the costs awarded by the courts, which over the past three years have increased – something we welcome. The average fine imposed on rod-licence evaders has also risen in the same period,” explained Martin.
“Our legal teams also offer magistrates training sessions to ensure they understand the issues surrounding environmental crimes, including angler-related offences. Where licence evasion is concerned, we also send out information packs to magistrates, providing them with information on the importance of rod licences and the fee,” he added.