The biggest-ever illegal shipment of smuggled carp worth a staggering £250,000 has been seized at Dover by UK authorities.
In the early hours of Friday, February 26, a Volvo FH12 lorry was searched by Border Agency officers and 120 carp weighing between 25lb and 50lb were discovered in four oxygen-fed containers.
All the French carp were confiscate and destroyed by inspectors from the Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Auqaculture Science (Cefas) because of the disease risk they posed.
The lorry driver, a 49-year-old man from West Sussex, has been reported pending possible prosecution while Cefas’ Fish Health Inspectorate (FHI continues its investigation.
“This is the first significant result in a stepped-up battle against illegal imports. I haven’t yet nailed the mastermind behind this smuggling ring, but I’m happy in the knowledge that they’ve now got a mighty big hole in their pocket,” said the FHI’s new enforcement ad investigations officer, Stuart Katon.
News of the bust met with universal approval, with well-known supplier of grown-on carp, fish farmer Mark Simmonds, leading the praise.
“Congratulations to Cefas, which is really on the case when it comes to stamping out deadly fish diseases reaching this country. They’re sure to be closing the net on the others responsible,” said Mark.
Importing live fish without a health check is big business for unscrupulous criminals, whose movement of ‘dodgy’ foreign carp and catfish pose a massive risk to fisheries, not to mention domestic fish farmers and suppliers.
“Someone, somewhere has put up serious money to bring these fish in to the country,” said Mike Heylin, secretary of the Fish Welfare Group and chairman of the Angling Trust.
“The lorry driver is normally just a gopher. Cefas is looking to close the net around ‘Mr Big’ who thinks he can play games with the health of our fisheries just so that he can make money. Hopefully, this hit will have made him think again. Greedy people are always looking to make a fast buck at other people’s expense,” he added.
While one small battle has been won, victory in the larger campaign against smuggling will only be decided by intelligence-led operations carried out by trained professionals like Cefas’ former CID superintendent-turned-enforcement officer.
“As well as working more closely with other agencies to target organised smuggling groups, we’re also stepping up our ‘intel’ gathering to support the fight against illegal imports,” said Stuart.
“To that end, we’ve been working closely with the English Carp Heritage Organisation and the Angling Trust on a Crimestoppers initiative which will be launched soon. That will see cash rewards being offered to anonymous anglers willing to provide information on illegal smuggling operations and the people behind them. The resulting intelligence will allow my team to close in on the ringleaders and put them behind bars,” he added.
Long-time ECHO campaigner Ruth Lockwood, who has been central to raising cash to set up the Crimestoppers scheme, is confident that concerned carpers will support Cefas’ fight to beat the smugglers.
“This was a really big consignment of carp. At £2,000 to £4,000 apiece, these 120 fish must have been destined for a number of different fisheries,” said Ruth.
“We need to gather the necessary ‘intel’ to take down the key players. Anglers will be essential to that, as some of them must know what’s going on. Remember, the real victims of this illegal trade are the fisheries wiped out by disease and the 120 specimen French carp that have had to be killed ¬ all because of the greed of a handful of uncaring criminals,” she added.