An angler's journal

An angler's journal

Wednesday, 18 December 2013

Angling - Is there a future? (Part 2)

This is the second part of my series looking into the threats to angling. The first part [here] focussed on hydro power turbines but this chapter will look in to the impact of Eastern European anglers.

The last decade or so has seen large numbers of immigrant workers entering the UK along with their families. Angling, like in the UK, is a popular pastime across many European nations so it was no surprise that a percentage of immigrants have chosen to fish in this country. Of course, this is not a problem however there have been many accusations laid at the feet of eastern European's relating to illegal fishing practices. These accusations can be broadly grouped into fishing illegally without the necessary permits, using illegal methods and taking fish for dinner table.

Fishing without permits

Fishing without the necessary documents is not a new problem. Unfortunately, thousands of people are discovered each year to be fishing without an Environment Agency license (required to fish anywhere in the UK) and/or without a permit to fish a given venue. There is no doubt that immigrant anglers have fallen foul to this. However, language barriers and a lack of signage and bailiffing does not help this situation. One could argue that an immigrant angler could be more proactive and seek the necessary information before fishing. I stated earlier that this is not a new problem with many UK nationals also flouting the law in this area. We've all seen anglers on rivers during the closed season and a quick look at the Environment Agency's (EA) convictions will show most incidents involve UK residents.

I contacted Radoslaw Papiewski who has a lead role in the AT's Building Bridges programme. He commented, "Fisheries enforcement is intelligence-led, meaning that the process relies completely on information reported. Unfortunately because anglers still do not report all incidents and information to the Environment Agency, the actual picture regarding the true impact on fish stocks by migrant anglers is, in fact, unknown. However, during Operation CLAMP DOWN, an initiative by our Voluntary Bailiff Service and the Environment Agency in South East England throughout the last coarse close season, we do know that none of the fourteen anglers found fishing illegally were migrants. It is absolutely imperative, therefore, that anglers report incidents in progress and information to the Agency. Only then can appropriate action be taken and an accurate picture collated."

I don't believe nationality is the issue here. It doesn't matter if you're English, French or Polish, fishing without the required permits is ILLEGAL and should be reported. End of really.

Illegal methods

Fishing for the purposes of clarification uses rod and line. This is the accepted method in the UK. This, however doesn't stop some from using illegal methods to gain advantage. A common method involves gill nets being stretched out across the river to catch whatever swims through them. Obviously, this method does not discriminate and many fish will die in vain. Another method used is set lines for pike. This usually takes the guise of a strong piece of line tethered to the the bank or tree. From this mainline are a number of strong, baited hooks. A pike will pick up the bait, swallow the hook and become tethered until it is is recovered or dies. This method is pretty barbaric hence why it is frowned upon. Although this method is not a new idea, it does appear to have become more common place in the last decade and has become associated as a favoured method among eastern Europeans. Fortunately, I have never witnessed any evidence of this method myself but I am not naive enough to believe it doesn't go on. Both methods are designed to catch lots of fish, which are most probably sold on for profit at the expense of our native stocks.
Illegal netting

Environmental Officer Roger Ferguson said, "The vast majority of anglers in the UK fish for sport, and have great respect for wildlife and their welfare. Unfortunately, there are still some people who try to take fish away to eat using this illegal fishing method." He added, "Increasingly we are finding these methods used in both urban and rural areas. We would urge anyone who sees a set line in use or being set up to contact us immediately so we can come and remove it."

The Environment Agency said they would prosecute anyone caught using set lines, and anyone found guilty could be fined up to £2,500 making it imperative that any such cases are reported immediately. In addition, the Angling Trust have created a partnership with Crimestoppers and commenced Project Ghillie. It is aimed at combating illegal methods and poaching and incidents can be reported anonymously to Crimestoppers. More information on the operation can be found here but it is well worth carrying the telephone number with you whilst on the bank.

Taking fish for the pot

Taking fish for the dinner table is not a new idea, indeed that was why fishing was invented. It was also common in the UK during the last century before it became unfashionable. The EA have strict bylaws on the amount of fish that can be taken legally [here]. I believe that for the majority of anglers, taking fish is not on the agenda. However, there are a minority that do and that they fall into two groups: the lone angler taking a fish or two for dinner and then more organised groups that are using methods to catch large numbers of fish for the black market. Eastern Europeans have been labelled as the main protagonists but again, scouring the news section of the EA website [here] seemed to show a different picture. I checked the news reports of each month during 2013 and could not find a single story that named a foreign angler. Indeed, of the dozen or more incidents making the news, it appeared that UK nationals were involved in illegal methods, taking fish and fishing without the necessary paperwork.
Catches of this magnitude would damage any fishery

It is my view that it is the methods aimed at catching numbers of fish obviously do the most harm to the fish populations of our waterways. Either that or your local Polish angler knows more about fishing than you do and is emptying the river using a spinning rod from Aldi. Using gill nets or set lines will cause damage at an alarming rate but poaching doesn't appear to be solely an eastern European problem.

So what next?

Looking into this area in more detail has shown that eastern Europeans may be guilty of fishing unlawful methods and/or contravening license laws and club rules but they are not alone. There is plenty of evidence to suggest that it is not only foreign nationals that are to blame for breaking the rules and damaging our sport. Whatever your views on who is responsible there is no doubt that something has to be done to prevent our fish stocks being damage further.

Firstly, anglers themselves have to help. It is not point moaning if you then take an apathetic view when you see something wrong. The EA offer the following advice should you see something suspicious on a waterway near you:

Call the EA on 0800 80 70 60 and tell them:
  • exactly where the alleged offence is happening 
  • what is happening
  • how many people are involved and a description of them the methods used 
  • a description and the registration numbers of any vehicles 
  • whether it is happening at that moment 
  • whether this happens regularly at this location
I have already mentioned the Angling Trust have formed a partnership with Crimestoppers and they can be contacted on 0800 555 111.

The Police are also supposedly there to support angling related crime. However, I have major doubts that they take the issue seriously or are familiar with the the law in this area. This was somewhat confirmed when I contacted West Mercia Police to seek their views on this matter. Despite guaranteeing a response with 48 hours I still find myself waiting suggesting it's not on their agenda. There are also accusations that the EA and Police force are unaware of the roles each has to play meaning matters are left unattended. It certainly doesn't give me confidence. I personally think the AT are being the most proactive in attempting to improve matters. 

Reporting incidents can catch offenders red handed
Secondly, education also has a major part to play. The Angling Trust (AT) has at least tried to make inroads in this area by initiating programmes and producing posters in many languages detailing rules and regulations. These can be downloaded from their website and displayed at fisheries meaning no angler has the excuse of the language barrier.

I am aware of a 'Respect the River' event that was run in Evesham during 2010 involving local tackle shops, anglers, EA representatives and other interested parties that invited foreign and local anglers to attend to learn more about the rules and angling culture that exists in the UK.

Coordinator, Tomasz Piotrowski said, "Both the first event and this one are very much about fishing, but are also about building bridges between the police and local authorities and European migrant workers and helping them achieve a better understanding of the many facets of British life. 
It is not always just about rules, but often about culture, which is not as clear-cut. The atmosphere at the first meeting left us hopeful that some friendships and mutual understanding will develop even further."

Having met a Polish angler myself in the summer I found he was keen to learn and understand where permits could be obtained and why we returned fish and I think this should always be the initial approach. If you then find rules being abused then we, as guardians of our sport, have to report incidents rather than moan. There are many threats to angling and our waterways, particularly rivers, are declining. It is unlikely to improve in the near future so everyone has to take responsibility and help in anyway possible or else the future of fishing could well be stocked ponds. Obviously, this is a sensitive issue but I would be interested to hear stories or opinions on this matter so please feel free to comment. 


  1. Lee
    We have a couple of Lithuanian lads who boat fish our bit of river and they are polite knowledgable and return all fish. If anyone's interested there are some great you tube videos of East European anglers treating their angling and fish with the same enthusiasm and care that we do. Type in drop shotting and scroll around.

    Mother Hen

  2. I think it's a bit of a cop out to blame all the ills on foreigners. As with all problems, it's people, not nationalities that cause them. Plenty of British anglers, who ought to know better, flout the rules yet are quick to point the finger. All issues need reporting.

  3. Very true indeed Lee. Ive forgot how many times on bfw people have targeted foreign anglers tarring all with the same brush. Education not discrimination is the way ahead.

  4. Just read your article Lee. Very interesting, especially as i am retired and now live in Bulgaria. Before i came here to live i fished all over the midlands and yorkshire. I have seen what is reported amnd actually caught the odd illegal fisherman. Were they east europeans. No they were Brits, fishing illegally and selling the catch to east europeans.

    I have a article on my blog about east europeans and illegal fishing. Its in response to the trust article. Yes, people here in bulgaria do fish and keep their catch to eat. Its a everyday part of their diet. But here there are many commercial fisheries where people go to catch fish to eat. They have the better of 2 worlds. They enjoy the sport and at the same time feed the family. I asked the question, why dont uk associations start their own commercial fisheries for course fish which will to some degree actually aleviate a lot of the so called illegal activities, give enjoyment to fishermen and at the same time feed those that like to eat freshwater fish. Its done for trout, so why not for course fish??? And if i might add it will generate not only jobs, but a steady income for angling associations with which to improve their own members fisheries.

    As for east europeans. Here they do not take under sized fish to eat and not all they catch.

    Its impossible to educate all peole but in this case there are alternatives which if looked at WILL benefit all fisheries. As you say, its all to easy to moan and even easier to do nothing about it as many anglers admit too.

  5. Interesting points but can't see it happening as fishery owners only see £