The opening of European borders and the subsequent influx of immigrants from Eastern Europe is said to have led to a significant rise in the number of fish thefts from commercial coarse fisheries in England and Wales, according to a new survey carried out by The Professional Coarse Fisheries Association Fisheries.co.uk.
The survey of 60 commercial coarse fishery owners, the first of its kind to be carried out in the UK, showed that over half of those questioned believed they suffer from the theft of fish from their waters. The majority of these are thought to be as a result of an increase in the number of anglers from Eastern European countries, where it is common practice to eat coarse fish such as carp.
Many of the respondents reported that fish thefts were now the biggest single problem facing their fisheries, followed only by the leaving of litter, the spread of disease and predation of fish stocks by cormorants and lack of angler knowledge about angling techniques and fish welfare.
In the past the problem of fish thefts from commercial waters has been confined to professional thefts with individuals or organised gangs stealing fish to sell on to other fishery owners. A small number of incidents were also said to be anglers taking smaller fish for their ornamental garden ponds.
Although this is still the case, some fishery owners said the problem of taking for the table had become so rife that they now make a point of telling anyone with an Eastern European accent who buys a day ticket that all fish must be returned to the water, and one said they had even installed closed circuit television cameras to help combat the problem.
At least three of the fisheries questioned - including British Waterways' high-profile Drayton Reservoir carp fishery on the outskirts of Daventry in Northamptonshire - said they display signs in Polish or other EU languages stipulating that fish are not to be removed from their sites. The Fisheries and Angling Conservation Trust, of which the PCFA is a founder member, is finalising posters and fishery notices which inform anglers of the requirement to return fish to the water.
PCFA Chairman Ian Welsh said the problem was caused by a difference in cultures, adding: "Most fishery owners seem to accept that these anglers are not out to deliberately break fishery rules by taking home some or all of the fish they catch. It's more a case that anglers in Eastern European countries have a culture of eating the coarse fish they catch and don't realise that over here anglers fish for the sport rather than for the table."
Although 21 of the 60 fisheries questioned said they believed they suffered from the theft of fish by people selling them on to other venues, 25 said they believed they suffered from fish thefts by people taking their catch for the table. The remainder said they believed anglers took fish to stock their garden ponds.
Despite the problem, only about half (33) of the fisheries questioned said they had a clearly stated rule telling anglers that all fish must be returned to the water. The remainder admitted that they had presumed that anglers knew they had to return all caught fish, and the majority of these fishery owners said they would now include this in their displayed rules.
The survey showed that fishery owners believe the most frequently taken fish were common or mirror carp whilst a handful said roach and rudd were the next most popular targets, followed by perch and pike.
When it came to the size of the fish most frequently taken, those of 10lbs and over were believed to be the most sought after, with fish between 1lb and 5lbs the next most popular. However, many fishery owners thought that fish of any size would be classed as takeable for the table.
Although nearly all the fishery owners questioned said they would ban any angler found taking fish, just over half said they would also report them to the police, and only a fifth would involve the Environment Agency. Asked what was the next most serious problem facing their fishery, the leaving of litter by anglers ranked higher than either the threat of disease or predation of fish stocks by cormorants.
Peter Cliff, Publishing Editor of Fisheries.co.uk, who carried out the survey with PCFA fisheries officer Dr Bruno Broughton, said: "The survey shows there is a need for anglers of all backgrounds to be educated not only to the fact that they should return all the fish they catch but also in aspects of angling techniques and waterside conservation. It is a sad reflection on the sport that, after the taking of fish, the next biggest problems facing fishery owners today is the amount of litter left by anglers and a general lack of knowledge about angling techniques and fish welfare."
The PCFA is a not-for-profit organisation which protects and promotes the interests of commercial coarse fisheries and has some 60 fisheries in membership. The PCFA is a founder member of the national umbrella organisation, the Fisheries and Angling Conservation Trust (FACT), which takes political action on behalf of the sport. Full details of the PCFA can be found at www.pcfa.co.uk