"I dread to think how few fish will be left in our rivers come opening day on June 16 because poaching is now totally out of control." These are the words of the manager of arguably the most popular day-ticket river fisheries in the UK after finding 17 baited 'set lines' on one of its stretches.
In just three days, Chris Allport and his team of bailiffs discovered the barbaric illegal fishing devices constructed from 30lb braid, wire traces and trebles baited with sandeels during routine patrols at the famous Throop Fishery on the Dorset Stour.
It is not only the most shocking evidence of poaching Chris has seen at the fishery in over 35 years, but, significantly, he believes the traps could have been set by English poachers.
"On several occasions recently, my bailiffs have stopped a group of English guys who have been visiting the areas where we have found the set lines," said Chris.
"Fish theft is a now big business and English people are aware of this armed with the right knowledge they can make good money. Plus, they are able to hide behind the smokescreen of the Eastern Europeans, who get all the blame. I feel more like I'm running a police force than a fishery. Throop is the hen house and these scumbags are the foxes skulking around outside waiting for any opportunity." Chris and his team are not alone in feeling they are facing an uphill battle, with fishing clubs all over the country suffering a similar fate.
Hereford and District, which controls many stretches of the River Wye, claims to be experiencing its 'worst closed season ever' for illegal fishing. Officials have been forced to recruit extra bailiffs and use hi-tech night vision goggles to catch the fish thieves.
"The bailiffs are now being watched during the day by the gangs who wait until the patrols are done and then go after the fish. With the goggles, the bailiffs are now able to go back and catch them," said Paul Woodward, club member and owner of Woody's Tackle in Hereford.
"It¹s an extreme measure, but it's working just the other night a couple of the lads found a group of men who had caught and killed a 6lb 10oz chub. It just shows what some of the best fisheries in the land are now up against."