The ongoing fight against illegal fishing and fish theft received a massive boost last week when four men were arrested by police after being caught red-handed removing fish from Norfolk’s River Wissey.
In a rare victory for angling – which suggests that the government could finally be taking the issues of fish poaching seriously – the individuals, believed to be Polish nationals, were caught smoking dead pike and bream over a fire on a stretch of the river at Roxham Fen between Hilgay and West Dereham by police and Environment Agency officers.
After a tip-off from a boat owner, they were also discovered with live perch and tench on a ‘stringer’ crudely constructed from washing line.
Signs displaying an Environment Agency Crimestoppers-style hotline are to thank for the arrests, after the boater spotted the number printed on a series of boards constructed on the bank of the Wissey. The signs, which also display the numbers for the Norfolk Constabulary and King’s Lynn AA secretary Ashley Brown, cost £2,000 to erect, part of which was funded by the EA.
Kings Lynn AA was able to introduce a zero-bag local byelaw after its annual meeting last month and can now prosecute anybody found with one or more dead fish. The club owns many of the drains and rivers in the area and secretary Ashley Brown said that the arrests had been a long time coming.
“Hopefully people will now realise that this is a very real problem here – it’s going on all the time and often well off the beaten track. But it’s not just pike, perch and bream that are getting barbecued – it’s small fish such as 2ins long roach as well, which is concerning for future stocks. I used to moan about the EA, but since we met in December to discuss the problems it has been brilliant, often taking just 20 minutes to respond to incidents,” he said.
Detective Sergeant Chris Curtis of Downham Market CID led the arrests and said that monofilament gill nets and two boats were also confiscated.
“The men could face up to three months in prison and/or a fine and are currently on police bail awaiting decisions on prosecution by the EA,” he concluded.