The war on illegal anglers gathered further momentum this week after the Environment Agency launched their latest crime fighting assault on the banks of UK’s most popular river.
Angling Times joined the team from Operation Mercury - an initiative which has been setup to crackdown on illegal fish removal and rod licence evasion on the River Trent in response to an increase in fish related crime on the waterway.
The action is part of the agency’s nationwide initiative called ‘Project Trespass’ which has seen similar crackdowns on other UK rivers such as the revolutionary ‘Operation Stone’ on the River Severn.
Both teams have already been dubbed a huge success with dozens of anglers already reported and awaiting prosecution including at least six anglers caught fishing illegally during our visit.
Joel Rawlinson, an Environment Agency, Fisheries Technical Specialist who has been working with the patrol unit on the Trent in Nottinghamshire, is well aware of the importance of the project: “Fishing on the Trent is booming at the moment with fish stocks at an all-time high so it makes it all the more important to protect what we have.
“It also has a deterrent aspect as anglers see us and know that in the future they can’t get away with fishing without a licence; in fact we have already seen an increase in licence sales since we began the operation” he said.
Patrols have been running up to four times a week on the river including night raids to catch out poachers operating under the cover of darkness.
The boat used by officers is a powerful 150 BHP rib which can reach speeds up to 60 knots, giving the crew the ability to cover large areas quickly as well as providing the element of surprise. It is manned by three of the EA’s enforcement officers who receive the same training as the police and are fully loaded with cuffs, batons and protective clothing. All the men are connected up so they can communicate with not only each other but other EA officers elsewhere as well as their base: “By being connected we can work far more efficiently and increase time spent actually checking licences,” Joel continued.
“We have a code so we can call the police and receive an instant response when required, for example if someone threatens us with a weapon and we also have a 24 hour translator service so we can communicate with any non-English speaking foreign anglers more effectively. “
So far anglers on the bank have taken the patrols positively with clubs and individuals even helping out with operations by providing intelligence and reporting sightings of any anglers taking fish.
Environment Agency officers have been working with clubs around the area to help us determine when and who is committing offences and what areas have the higher concentration of possible illegal anglers.
It’s not just the EA ramping up efforts to stop illegal angling though, as Nottinghamshire Police are also helping the agency to clamp down by posting messages on their social media pages after officers received an increase in the number of calls from the public about fish crime this year. DCI Caroline Racher, Rural Crime Lead Nottinghamshire Police said: “It is important to appreciate that fish theft is not simply victimless wildlife crime. Many fish that are stolen are worth thousands of pounds this impacts negatively on local businesses, livelihoods, and the angling community as a whole, as well as causing endless environmental damage.”
2014 on the Trent
River Trent Enforcement Figures 2014 (from April to date)
400 - the number of licence checks
50 - the amount of illegal anglers caught
12.5 - the percentage of anglers caught fishing illegally
EA enforcement nationwide in numbers
40,000 - licence checks this year to August
4.7% - evasion rate this year
80,000 - checks last year
3000 - prosecutions for illegal angling in 2013
£600,000 - the amount in fines paid by offenders in 2013
Anyone who suspects illegal fishing to be taking place should report the matter to the Environment Agency’s incident hotline, on 0800 807060.
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