Ambitious plans aim to beat law-breakers

Smugglers jailed, ‘dodgy’ fish confiscated and illegally-stocked fisheries shut down…it’s all part of a radical new regime aimed at stamping out the lawless activities blighting our sport.

After decades of getting away with thieving and smuggling, fish rustlers look set to be confronted by new, far-reaching regulations being formulated by the Environment Agency fisheries department under new legislation.

The bold plans will give the EA the powers to:
- Make fishery owners prove where their fish have come from
- Remove any illegal fish and stop guilty fisheries from trading
- Stop smugglers stealing fish from rivers to stock into stillwaters

News of the plans has been well-received by the trade, law-abiding fisheries and conservationists, who are describing it as ‘the boldest move that the fisheries department has ever made’.

“It’s crucial that anglers and fishery owners understand the threat that illegal fish movements pose in terms of introducing disease,” said Nigel Hewlett, of the EA’s national fisheries technical team.

“If someone wants to steal fish to stock illegally, then they probably will – but the new regulations we’re working on with Defra should make it more difficult to get away with.

“We’ll be making fisheries more accountable for their stocks. It will be far more difficult to move fish illegally because all suppliers have to be authorised. Also, new national byelaws on the removal of fish will make it impossible for anglers to remove numbers of specimen fish from rivers,” he added.

It is generally accepted within the sport that every year a large number of illegal introductions occur, either by anglers ‘seeding’ waters and moving illegal livebaits, or by fishery owners obtaining big river carp and barbel to boost their stocks.

So far, the authorities have been fighting a losing battle against such criminal activities due to a loophole in the law that only allows them to prosecute if they actually catch the culprits in the act.

The news was welcomed by Ian Wellby, head of the Coarse Fish Farmers and Traders Association, whose membership includes most of the country’s legitimate fish suppliers.

“The industry is delighted with these ambitious plans – there has been a great need for change for a long time now. However, the same degree of effort will need to be put into the enforcement of these rules as has gone into bringing them into effect,” said Ian.