Law-abiding anglers have been left incensed this week after it was revealed that poachers convicted of fishing rivers during the closed season have been let off the hook following a shocking legal blunder by the Environment Agency.
In a development that’s rocked the sport, it has emerged that last year the Government body accidentally abolished the law that makes angling on running water illegal between March 16 and June 15.
The result of the howler is that 14 anglers previously prosecuted for fishing out of season have had their convictions quashed, with a further 90 cases expected to follow suit.
The key section of the old Salmon and Freshwater Fisheries Act that contained the offence was removed by Government lawyers who believed that the offence was also included in other legislation. Had the proper checks been made they would have found that it was not.
To add insult to injury, the EA then attempted to hide its error by announcing plans to introduce a new emergency byelaw to redress the mistake in a single bulletpoint buried at the end of a recent seven-page article on eel byelaws.
“It’s pretty incompetent,” said Angling Trust chief Mark Lloyd, “I was warned of the incident a few weeks ago and thought the EA would announce it properly. When I saw it had tried to bury it, I knew it didn’t want people to know what it had done.
“As public bodies, the EA and DEFRA should be open about their mistakes. But they have this culture of spin that makes people trust them less and less.
This instance of their lawyers not being bothered to check the byelaws is shambolic, and a further demonstration that DEFRA does not take angling seriously,” he added.
Secretary and bailiff of King’s Lynn Angling Association, Ashley Browne, who has battled in recent seasons to keep poachers off his club’s waters, was shocked by the situation.
“We’re extremely disappointed. I can’t believe the EA could make such a mistake. Heads should roll,” he said.
His sentiments were echoed by chairman and head bailiff of Shropshire Anglers Federation, John Roberts, whose club has also suffered from problems with poachers.
“If you go through the huge effort of getting offenders to court, you expect the legislation to be in place to support you. We’ve now found it easier to go straight to the police.” Speaking on behalf of the EA about the incident, head of fisheries Mat Crocker said: “EA lawyers were quick to notice the mistake and acted to address it. However, 14 individuals were prosecuted for fishing in the closed season under a section of the law that no longer exists. These prosecutions were later withdrawn.
“The EA is creating a new byelaw, making fishing in the closed season an offence. This should be well in force before the coarse fishing closed season starts in March.”