Rooting out rod licence cheats

Last Bank Holiday weekend all our fishery bailiffs were out and about checking that anglers had got a rod licence. This is a short blog about why and how we do it.

Rod Licences

If you’re aged 12 or over and you go fishing for salmon, trout or coarse fish in England and Wales you need to have a rod licence. If you are caught fishing without a licence you risk a large fine and you could lose the fishing tackle you are using.

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Why is there a rod licence?

The first national fishing licence was introduced in 1992. Before this each nationalised water authority issued its own and anglers had to buy one for each authority area they fished (which was not popular!).

The principle behind rod licences is that those who participate in and gain benefit from the sport should contribute to the cost of maintaining, developing and improving fisheries. The Environment Agency has been given the responsibility for carrying out much of this work and the income we receive from rod licence sales funds a portion of it.

The main work areas which licence payers help fund are:

regulation and enforcement

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fisheries monitoring

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promotion and advice

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incident response and fish rescues

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stocking and improvements (such as habitat improvements, fish passes, fisheries development and improvement)

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We also provide advice to angling clubs, and last year we made over 2,000 site visits to give advice and attended 700 angling club meetings. To encourage new anglers into the sport we coached over 25,000 beginners at various events.

We can maximise rod licence income in two ways – by encouraging more anglers to participate and making sure all anglers buy a rod licence.

Rod licence checking

In the Midlands we have a team of dedicated fisheries enforcement officers. They are highly trained (in many areas to the same level as police officers), carry specialised equipment (stab vests, handcuffs, batons) and have a lot of knowledge and experience of angling. They are responsible for a range of enforcement duties – elver protection, salmon poaching, illegal fish introductions as well as rod licence compliance checks and enforcement.

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This year in the Midlands they will check over 14,000 licences. All our rod licence work is intelligence-led. This means that we target our patrols on areas we believe we are more likely to find people without licences.

Our intelligence comes from a variety of sources, such as the previous history of sites, specific tip-offs, surveillance and incident reports. This is all assessed by our crime analyst who then devises a programme of targeted activity.

All the reports we receive about illegal fishing are fed into this process so even if we can’t respond immediately they all help in building our intelligence picture.

Bank Holiday blitz

Last weekend in the Midlands we carried out 761 rod licence checks at 51 different locations across 11 counties. As a result we reported 76 people for offences. These reports will now be processed by our national enforcement team who will decide whether we recommend to prosecute individuals.

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The figures reveal that we reported offences on 10% of all checks. We certainly don’t believe that 1 in 10 of all anglers are licence cheats and think that it reflects the fact that we are successfully targeting high evasion locations. Indeed in a couple of targeted hotspots near Scunthorpe and Gloucester last weekend we reported 50% of all anglers checked!

We have many more operations planned for this year so please have your licences ready! Remember, if you haven’t had your licence checked it may be that you’re fishing in fairly compliant locations. If you know different tell us – you know who to call (0800 80 70 60)!

Rod licences – questions and answers http://www.environment-agency.gov.uk/homeandleisure/recreation/fishing/38081.aspx

Buy your licence online here http://www.environment-agency.gov.uk/homeandleisure/recreation/fishing/31497.aspx

Where your money goes http://www.environment-agency.gov.uk/static/documents/Leisure/Annual_report_summary_-_final_-_combined.pdf

Elvering on the Severn Estuary

What are elvers?

They’re baby eels. Eels have a remarkable lifecycle which sees them travel thousands of miles across the Atlantic Ocean.

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Spawning (egg laying) has never been observed, but it is believed to take place in the spring, deep in the Sargasso Sea, between Bermuda and the Bahamas. Maturing females are thought to contain up to 10 million eggs. The eggs develop into a ‘leaf-like’ larva called a ‘leptocephalus’ It was originally thought that these larvae took three years to migrate from the Sargasso Sea to the European coast but, recent studies suggest that the journey may take as little as 12 months.

When the larvae reach shallower water they change into what is called the ‘glass eel’ stage before continuing with their migration into river estuaries.

eellifecycleThey use the tidal currents to push them into our river systems, going upstream on the flood tide. During the ebb tide they move out of the current towards the bank side to prevent being washed back out to sea. As the water warms during the late Spring, glass eels start to develop pigmentation and become strong swimmers. At this stage they look like miniature adult eels and are referred to as elvers.

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Male eel stay in freshwater for between 7 and 12 years, maturing at an average length of about 36cm. Females stay between 9 to 20 years and mature at a larger average size of about 50cm, though eel can grow larger reaching up to 1 metre in length and live as long as 40 years.

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When the fish mature they change to a blue/silvery colour and migrate seaward during the autumn, usually during dark stormy nights.

Population collapse

The European Eel is a critically endangered species. Since the 1970s, the numbers of eels reaching Europe is thought to have declined by over 90%. The exact reasons for the catastrophic decline are unknown but probably include: overfishing, parasites, barriers to migration such as weirs and natural changes in the North Atlantic currents

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Elver fishing

There is a very long history of fishing for elvers in the Severn Estuary. It’s important to the local culture and also makes a contribution to the local economy. The wholesale value of elvers has risen dramatically from around 50p a kilo in the 1980’s to anything up to £500 a kilo now. There are about 3000 elvers in a kilo. Prices fluctuate greatly depending on demand and the number of elvers about.

CaptureFishermen sell their catch to elver traders in the UK, who then sell them on for restocking fish farms and fisheries across Europe. Under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) regulations, it is now illegal to export European elver outside the Continent.

Regulating elver fishing

If you want to fish for elvers you need a special permit from us.

Details here http://bit.ly/11a4Dux

Last year we sold over 200 elver dip net licences on the Severn Estuary.
Because eels are so endangered and due to the potential financial benefits of catching large numbers of elvers we try to strike a balance between allowing fishing and protecting the vulnerable population.

Our permits put restrictions on the equipment you are allowed to use and how and where they are used. This limits the numbers of elvers it’s possible to catch while allowing fishing to continue.

Most elver fishermen are law abiding. Some are not! During the elver season ( from February to May) we devote a lot of effort to detecting and tackling illegal fishing activity. We have a dedicated team of fisheries enforcement staff who are fully warranted and equipped to carry this out.

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We also have some sophisticated kit, such as night vision headsets and cameras, sonar equipment and high- powered boats, to help us track down the guilty. Last year we successfully prosecuted 10 people at magistrates courts for illegal elver fishing on the Severn Estuary.

We also have the power to seize equipment that we suspect to be illegal or being used to carry out illegal activity. In the past, in addition to fishing equipment, we’ve seized and impounded boats, cars and vans!

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The elver season is now well underway and we’re out and about most nights.