Just how can we save precious fish from being taken illegally?

Majestic fish like this must be appreciated and must, above all, be protected.

Majestic fish like this must be appreciated and must, above all, be protected. - Credit: Submitted

I've never had quite as much feedback from any of my Eastern Daily Press columns as I did recently when I wrote about the illegal taking of fish on long lines, in nets and even poisoned.

Whilst I will normally get half a dozen e–mails or phone calls, this particular piece (Are We Turning a Blind Eye to the Damning Tale of the Riverbank? January 21) has produced a storm of replies.

Never in my wildest nightmares had I envisaged a problem as deep-rooted as this one. It seems that all around the region people are reporting fish thefts on a really serious scale. And all this at a time when our waters have so many other problems to contend with as well.

Perhaps most tellingly, I was contacted by a professional member of an enforcement body, obviously I cannot give name and number.

He informed me that a man had been arrested and prosecuted for a gross violation of the fishing by-laws. This was one of the worst cases that my informant had come across.

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Apparently, if found guilty, as this man was, the sentence can be as high as six months in jail or a £5,000 fine. In the event, the man was dismissed with a fine of a £110 with not even an hour of community service tacked on. He left the courtroom laughing with his mates.

You can't help wondering what the punishment would have been if this character had been shooting hen harriers or barbecuing bitterns or taking barn eggs home to fry in an omelette.

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I think we can be pretty sure then that the punishment would have been completely different. The sad fact is that unless you are an angler, there is barely anyone in this country that gives fish the massive respect that they truly deserve. To you and me, a fish is a source of wonder. To most, and to magistrates it seems, they're simply something to eat on a plate.

There are different ways to tackle this problem. I think I've highlighted the fact that law enforcement really does need to be stricter. It's definite that the Environment Agency enforcement officers and the police need much more support over this particular issue.

I'm also scrolling down the Angling Trust website and see that they helped initiate a Voluntary Bailiffs' Service some while back. The core of this idea is to select and train volunteers to support the work of Environment Agency Fishery enforcement officers.

These people would be unpaid but they would work hand in glove with the powers that be. This is surely an opportunity for those who really care to do something positive? Perhaps I can join the bus pass division?

However, I feel a far more positive note is struck on the same website when it talks about the Building Bridges Project. What a great initiative.

A Polish angler, Radoslaw Paplewski, resident in the UK, has been using every aspect of the media to engage with fellow Eastern Europeans and coach them in the UK ways of catch and release.

From what I can gather by asking around, the scheme has had huge success in various parts of the country. It shouldn't be beyond the wit of us to do something similar in this region, and perhaps there is something already up and running.

I'd love to know about it as conversion is always one way but conciliation is always the better way.

We are approaching the last few weeks of the traditional river fishing season.

What wonderful weeks these have been for me over my lifetime. Those afternoons with a promise of spring and with light extending to 6pm or later have frequently proved magical.

There's a warmth to the air again, a generosity that oozes from the water. The time is now approaching when we might hope to catch our biggest chub, roach or even river pike. That of course, is providing the fish are still present to take our baits.

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