Natural Resources Wales has enjoyed a successful first year in its fight against illegal fishing and poaching.
Since its formation in April 2013, the organisation has caught 139 illegal anglers committing a variety of offences ranging from not having a rod licence to illegal netting and foul hooking.
This has resulted in successful prosecutions in all but three cases and total fines of £18,468 plus the confiscation of tackle and equipment.
Illegal fishing has far reaching consequences as angling is worth more than £150 million to the Welsh economy and the actions of illegal anglers can damage the whole ecology of a river as well as impacting on angling as a sport.
Natural Resources Wales environmental crime officers have dealt with all sorts of scenarios in their efforts to crack down on illegal fishing.
In south east Wales, four men were caught fishing without a rod licence during a routine check by officers at a commercial coarse fishing complex near Monmouth.
Three of the men were stopped on the bank while the fourth attempted to escape in his car but was caught when he crashed into an officer's vehicle.
The driver was fined a total of £730 for the fishing offence and obstructing an officer, while the others were fined £197 each.
And in another incident on the River Usk, two illegal anglers were fined £600 each despite not catching any fish.
The two men were caught fishing on the privately-owned Upper Llangybi Fishery by a member of the angling club and the fishery owner and with the help of a local Police Community Support Officer their details were passed to Natural Resources Wales fisheries officers.
And although they had not caught any fish on that occasion there was the potential for migratory fish, in this case salmon, to be taken. The men admitted illegally attempting to take fish from private waters – an offence under the Theft Act.
In addition one of the men was fined £150 for fishing without a licence.
The courts are taking an increasingly serious view on illegal fishing and are issuing heavier penalties such as the £600 fine given to a Bridgend man last month for fishing without a rod licence on the River Ogmore.
The penalties highlight how seriously the courts take these types of offences as well as the need for well trained and properly equipped officers.
On the River Loughor officers have had to deal with one of the cruellest forms of illegal fishing – foul hooking.
Foul hooking is a barbaric and indiscriminate form of fishing which involves dragging hooks through the water at high speed in an attempt to impale the fish on the hooks.
This often leaves more fish damaged and dying in the river than is actually brought to shore.
The Loughor is frequented by salmon and sea trout and it is these fish which are targeted – a situation which is repeated in north Wales.
Valuable salmon and sea trout stock has been threatened by Illegal netting on the Menai Straits and anglers using the wrong rod licences to catch salmon on the rivers Dee and Clwyd as the fish return to their breeding grounds.
The crackdown on illegal fishing by Natural Resources Wales' environmental crime team is helping to maintain the sport for the thousands of legal anglers who fish Welsh waters.
Around 60,000 rod licences are bought in Wales each year generating about £1.25 million. Some of this money is spent on fishery improvement projects such as providing facilities for disabled anglers and introducing people to the sport.
Rod licences need to be renewed in April and can be purchased in three ways:
- Online at www.naturalresourceswales.gov.uk
- At your local Post Office
- Over the phone by calling 0844 800 5386
A spokesperson for Natural Resources Wales said:
"Angling helps protect the environment, is a big draw for tourism and plays a major role in the local economy. It's important that we continue to crack down on illegal fishing activity so that it remains sustainable for licensed fisherman.
"We take these offences seriously and we have the legal powers to apprehend individuals, seize any illegal equipment connected to the offence and report them for fisheries offences.
"If anyone else sees any illegal fishing or something suspicious they should call our hotline on 0800 807060. All information is used in our fight against illegal fishing and poaching."