Tuesday, December 09, 2008

New bill outlaws fish theft

Powers to prohibit the taking of fish caught on line from our rivers are included in the new Marine Bill.

Angling groups including the Pike Anglers Club are still poring over the finer points of the bill, which is expected to become law next summer after its inclusion in the Queen's Speech.

Notes accompanying the bill say it will outlaw the taking of fish caught on rod and line for the pot.

Recent seasons have seen widespread anger among many anglers over the authorities' apparent unwillingness to tackle what has become a widespread problem in many areas of the country, from the River Wissey to the Wye.

Pike often bear the brunt of this because they are prized as a food fish by some cultures. They are also vulnerable to capture by roving anglers travelling light with just a lure rod and a carrier bag to carry your catch in.

Defra's website states: "Whilst the custom in England and Wales is for the catch and release of coarse fish it is not actually a legal requirement on rivers.

"We will remove the current right for fishery owners, and anyone with their permission, to remove freshwater fish by rod and line.

"This undermines any catch and release byelaws the EA may introduce to address fish theft."

Reading West MP Martin Salter, the Labour Government's spokesman on angling issues, said: “It has been a long campaign but we have finally got the chance to do something to protect our fisheries, to give the police and the Environment Agency real powers to clamp down on those who remove fish for either the pot or for private gain.

"The current hotch potch of fishery by-laws are unintelligible and unenforceable and I know for a fact that the EA are starting work on a national catch and release by-law which I want to see implemented as soon as possible.

"Catch and release must become the norm in freshwater with exceptions available in clearly defined circumstances such as put and take trout fisheries."

Many conservation groups were celebrating after the legislation was included in last Wednesday's Queen's Speech, in which the Government set out its priorities for the next parliamentary session.

The bill signals a new approach to protecting the marine environment that will include conservation zones, a new planning system, reform of fisheries and access to the coasts, along with a new agency to manage the seas around our coasts.

Defra - the Department for the Environment Food and Rural Affairs - said freshwater fisheries would also benefit from the "modernised and more flexible powers" it contains.

A statement on its website adds: "These will give the Environment Agency the tools to better manage fisheries for the benefit of anglers and commercial fishers."

To date there has been one prosecution for taking fish for the pot - the widely-reported case earlier this year, when two migrant workers were ordered to forfeit boats and equipment worth thousands after they were caught catching fish and barbecuing them on the bank during the close season.

Click here to read a court report from our archives.

Click here to read Defra's summary of the Marine Bill's proposals for freshwater fisheries.