Three quarters of anglers fear that proposed laws to set new bag limits will have no effect in preventing poachers from continuing to plunder the nation’s fish stocks.
That was the findings of an Angling Times survey into potential regulations which could see a total ban on the removal of coarse fish caught on rod and line.
But the Environment Agency has hit back, insisting that raising the maximum it can fine poachers to £50,000 will act as a ‘significant deterrent’ to illegal fishermen.
After two weeks of voting, 75 per cent of the readers involved in the poll feel that fish thieves will simply ignore the rules due to be implemented by anglers and clubs once the new Marine Bill comes into force. Among the Angling Times readers questioned, many believed that an insufficient number of bailiffs to enforce laws would be the main problem.
John Wezley, from Kent, said: “I’ve been fishing for 20 years and only had my licence checked twice. Although any new legislation is welcome, there are just not enough bailiffs to police the banks and catch poachers in the act.”
Others, like Carl Porter, from Nottingham, believe anglers themselves would be more effective in bringing fish thieves to justice.
“Fishermen are the eyes and ears for authorities, although there will always be a percentage of people who avoid confrontation. I hope courts will hand out the maximum punishment outlined in the new consultation to deter poachers,” he said.
The Environment Agency also harbours similar hopes and has hinted that the maximum fine for a byelaw offence could increase from £2,500 to a staggering £50,000 under the new Marine Bill.
“If the removal of fish without consent becomes a byelaw offence, then taking forward a prosecution, and getting tough sentencing from magistrates, will be much easier. We regularly work with magistrates to educate them on the consequences of fisheries offences, such as licence evasion and fish theft, in the hope that the punishments handed down appropriately reflect the severity of the offence,” said a spokesperson.
One man convinced that new legislation will have a significant effect is Martin Salter, Parliamentary spokesman for angling.
‘A few high-profile prosecutions will do wonders in preserving our fish stocks. At the moment it is not unlawful to remove specimen fish, kill them and eat them, so how can you prosecute for something that is still legal? Unless we change laws and deliver a national catch-and-release byelaw, we can never have an effective enforcement programme. I received anecdotal evidence only yesterday that the ‘return fish’ message is getting through to a number of Eastern European anglers,” he said.