Do it yourself plan sparks safety fears

The practice of angling clubs and fishery owners providing their own bailiffs to check permits and rod licences and hunting down fish poachers is being hailed and recommended as the way forward to save the Environment Agency costs amounting to millions.

However other angling bosses are expressing doubts about the safety issues of such a move.

The initiative comes in parallel with a worrying announcement from the Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aqua Culture Science (Cefas) that criminality within the sport is believed to be rising annually. That can include wide spread fish theft and smuggling, black market fish dealing, under the counter sales of coarse fish for the frozen bait trade, fishing tackle theft along the banks and from garages, and even using the trade for money laundering of cash derived from unlawful pursuits unconnected with the water sport.

Covert investigations have revealed unlicensed consignments of carp being imported from France, devious anglers funding their foreign holidays by smuggling huge carp in to this country in wet sacks to be sold on with out licence, organised gangs netting fish for human consumption and the bait trade and fishery bosses being offered staggering sums of cash to launder money.

Cefas investigating officer Stuart Katon told the Angling Times he was shocked by the scale of criminality within the sport and appealed to anglers to assist in bringing the perpetrators to book.

In the Broads, fish thieves were thought to have been deterred by a local press campaign. It highlighted at a least a dozen undisputed cases where witnesses observed unlawful lining for pike, rivers being trawled, unlicensed and licensed eel nets discovered with coarse fish and eels being emptied into metal containers and plastic batch trays with also evidence of private lakes netted of carp under cover of darkness.

But in recent weeks set lines baited with small dead fish have again been located in Ormesby and Salhouse broads and in the River Bure with anglers urged to report any suspicious activities to the Environment Agency hotline on 0800 807060.

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Whether this new initiative to train volunteer bailiffs will meet with success is open to considerable doubt. At present the official bailiffing force is issued with flak jackets and stab vests, a modern day police baton and in threatening circumstances they travel in pairs.

This confirms the job carries inherent danger bringing to the fore the issues of insuring volunteers against personal injury and accident.

The Norwich and District Anglers Association point out that every licensed angler can request another to show their official document.

Norwich chairman Tony Gibbons could not say whether any of his members would wish to volunteer to act as voluntary bailiffs at the sharp end of law enforcement throughout the Broads area. 'It is matter for discussion at great lengths,' he thought.

In West Norfolk King's Lynn club secretary Ashley Brown had no doubts. 'To expect trained volunteers to take on these jobs is very dangerous as they will never command the same power or protection of EA fisheries officers,' he said.

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