More and more carp are being ‘stolen to order’ for unscrupulous fishery bosses looking to stock their waters with whackers on the cheap.
The worrying trend, which is the latest threat to an industry under pressure from diseases like KHV, is being fuelled by a growing demand from anglers for day-ticket waters offering the chance of huge fish.
And, while the majority of venue owners go through the legitimate channels and obtain their fish from registered fish farmers, a corrupt minority are intent on taking illegal shortcuts to save time and money.
Ruth Lockwood, chairman of the English Carp Heritage Organisation, is at the heart of efforts to stamp out a problem she believes is escalating.
She said: "ECHO and the Environment Agency are investigating 17 cases of fish theft in the south alone. I know of one case where a guy bought a lake with potential, but few carp. He sought people willing to steal fish and told them he’d pay for any carp over 15lb. Lo and behold, his lake now has some very impressive fish."
According to Ruth, the problem is being stimulated by greedy fishery bosses and the insatiable demand from carpers for ever bigger fish.
"Obtaining big, legitimate carp is expensive. The whole process can take a long time because respected stockists often have long waiting lists. Many new fishery bosses feel that they’re going to lose out, so they buy illegally because it’s cheap and easy.
"These crimes are being committed by anglers and fishery owners, not those outside the sport. It’s despicable and those involved should be very ashamed." added Ruth Chris Logsdon, boss of Mid-Kent Fisheries, which owns numerous big carp venues, has witnessed the problems first hand. He said: "I know people who have joined MKF with the sole intention of stealing fish. I also get four or five phone calls a year from people offering me dodgy fish, some up to 50lb.
I wouldn’t touch them with a barge pole. It took us 10 years of dedication to get our first 40lb carp, but now there are waters boasting fish of that size springing up overnight. There’s no way they have all been stocked legitimately."
Another big carp venue owner, Marsh Pratley of Orchid Lakes in Oxfordshire, believes the situation is only going to get worse in the current economic
climate: "It’s been going on for many years and will continue because there’ll always be fishery owners who want to cut corners. Via the proper channels a 30lb carp will cost up to £3,000, but poached fish of that size cost maybe £500. Despite the credit crunch anglers still want to catch big carp, and some fisheries may decide that a few cheap carp from a ‘dodgy’ source could be enough of an incentive to keep anglers buying tickets."