FISH THEFTS! WE NEED YOUR HELP!

ILLEGAL FISH REMOVALS

Over the past few months the SFCA has seen an alarming increase in the number of reports of coarse fish being removed from Scottish waters, and in particular the Forth and Clyde canal!

While reports of small numbers of fish being removed by rod and line for the table in clear breach of the permit conditions are fairly common, more worrying are the large number of reports being received about the use of nets, traps and fixed or set lines.  These methods are clearly not used with the intention of taking one or two fish for personal consumption! They are used to try to obtain large quantities of fish, probably for sale, and represent a significant threat to the future of our natural fish stocks and thus the future of our sport. While the traps being used, like the one in the photo, are selective in removing fish of a certain size, fixed lines holding multiple (sometimes as many as 50) baited hooks, and the type of nets that have recently been reported as being used in the Twechar and Kirkintilloch areas, are indiscriminate and catch and usually kill fish of all sizes from a few centimetres to the biggest fish in the water.

BREAKING THE LAW

Irrespective of the motive or the method used, the removal of fish from any of the Lowland canals is not permitted.  All individuals require a permit to fish on the Canals and this permit is issued by the SFCA in the form of a Membership Card.  All members are issued a set of rules or conditions for fishing on the canals and these include the fact that all fish that are caught must be returned alive to the water.  Removal of fish is therefore a breach of the permit conditions. In Scotland the use of any fixed or set line is ILLEGAL on any water and individuals caught can and will be prosecuted.  It is also unlawful to fish with nets or traps without consent of the owner or occupier (person or persons with the controlling rights for the fishing).  Scottish Canals are the riparian owner of all of the canals in Scotland and the SFCA controls the fishing rights on the Lowland Canal network.  Neither Scottish Canals nor the SFCA have given any permission to net or trap fish on the Canal network and thus anyone caught using nets and/or traps on the canal is liable to prosecution.

For those who are interested the extract from Section 2 of the Salmon and Freshwater Fisheries (Consolidation) (Scotland) Act 2003 is printed below:

2 Methods of fishing: freshwater fish

(1)Subject to subsections (3) and (4) below, any person who fishes for or takes freshwater fish in any inland waters except by rod and line shall be guilty of an offence, and liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding level 4 on the standard scale.

(2)Without prejudice to section 294 (attempts to commit crime) of, and paragraph 10 of Schedule 3 to, the Criminal Procedure (Scotland) Act 1995 (c. 46), any person who attempts to commit or who does any act preparatory to the commission of the offence mentioned in subsection (1) above shall be guilty of an offence, and liable to the same punishment as if that person had committed the offence mentioned.

(3)In any pond or loch where all the owners are agreed, a right of fishing may be exercised by net.

(4)In any inland waters an owner or occupier may fish for or take freshwater fish, other than trout, by net or trap.

SPOILING THE FUTURE

For many young anglers their first experience of fishing and the opportunity to catch their first fish comes on the Lowland Canals.  The experience and indeed success young anglers have on these first few trips out onto the towpath are a catalyst for getting them hooked on the sport. Maintaining a balanced and healthy stock of fish in the waterway is therefore vital.  Due to the environmental and climatic conditions that prevail in Scotland, coarse fish species are not as prolific as they are south of the border.  With shorter, cooler summers and colder winters affecting water temperatures, coarse fish are generally less successful at spawning, and juvenile fry experience far higher mortality rates.   These factors make the removal of any adult fish of breeding size particularly damaging, and where the practice is conducted systematically in specific areas, it can be devastating to the future sustainability of stocks leading the stretches of the canal becoming almost devoid of fish.

TAKING ACTION

While it is easy to lay all of these problems and the door of migrant workers from eastern Europe, recent reports have shown that the problem is much wider.  The instances of netting and the removal of fish on an almost commercial scale by non eastern Europeans reported in the Scottish Sun in recent weeks clearly demonstrate this.  There have also been many reports of young Scots taking pike and perch home and many Game angling clubs continue to conduct Pike culls, despite clear scientific evidence that this is not only ineffective but in the long term actually damaging.

Addressing these problems is currently our highest priority.  We need to do more to educate anglers; particularly those who come from countries where the culture is very different and the killing and eating of coarse fish is normal or common practice.  We are aware that a lot of the low level instances of removal of coarse fish caught by rod and line is carried out by individuals who simply do not know that this in not accepted practice in Scotland, and we must do better in engaging with these individuals.  But we also need to do more to gather intelligence on areas that are being targeted on almost a commercial scale by organised and well equipped groups; and ensure that this is passed to the police so that legal action can be taken.  Having done so we need to be dogged in our determination to ensure that the information we provide is acted upon and that guilty parties are prosecuted.

We also need to be more proactive at checking permits and engaging with anglers and other towpath users.  Most of all we need to continue to fight at a political level to have the legislation simplified and for better protection for coarse fish in Scotland.

YOUR HELP

We cannot however hope to achieve any of this without your help.  As a small, volunteer ten person committee we cannot hope to police the whole of the Lowland Canal network, and nor can it be left to a handful of Wildlife Crime Officers.  On a water that spans the whole of the Central Belt with literally hundreds of access points we need to make sure that we provide quality intelligence to the Police Wildlife Crime Officers so that they can target their limited resources to best effect.  This is where you come in.

Intelligence

We need to build up a network of people, not necessarily only anglers, who use the canal towpath on a regular basis and I would urge all members to speak to any family or friends who could help in this respect.  We need information about any incidents of fishing with nets, traps or fixed lines to be reported in the first instance to the Police by calling 101 or Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111 and then to the Chairman of the SFCA, Gus Brindle on 07812 241816 or by email at chairman@sfca.co.uk.  The information we require is:

Date and Time:

Location:

What has been witnessed:

How many individuals:

Description (Gender, Ethnicity, Age, Height, Hair Colour, Height/Weight/Build, Distinguishing features, clothing)

Vehicle details (if obvious or witnessed):  Make, Model, Colour, Registration No

Any photographic evidence.

IMPORTANT

Do not approach any individual or group of individuals that you suspect of committing an offence and do not take any risks in order to obtain the information listed above.  In the past few months we have had reports of these individuals threatening violence when challenged.  Simply gather what evidence you can from a safe distance and report it immediately to the Police.

Working in partnership with Scottish Canals we hope to be able to obtain some credit card size cards that can be handed out to anglers and other tow path users giving the contact numbers to report incidents and the information that we require.  More information on this initiative will follow shortly.

Signs

It is also our hope to be able to get multi-lingual signs erected and access point to the towpath stating:

Fishing by Permit Only – contact SFCA (www.sfca.co.uk)’

All fishing is by rod and line only

All fish are to be returned alive to the water

FISH THEFT IS A CRIME!  REPORT IT TO THE POLICE IMMEDIATELY By dialing 101 or Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111 and to the SFCA at chairman@sfca.co.uk.

Membership

Finally, SFCA membership!  Probably the most important thing that you can do is join the SFCA as an Individual Member and encourage others to do the same.  Apart from representing excellent value for money by providing FREE fishing on the Lowland Canals and  FREE Public Liability Insurance for just £5.00 per year (FREE for under 17s), your membership really helps us to fight for the future of our sport.  The more members we have the easier it is to get our voice heard at both a local council of Scottish Government level and the better chance we have or achieving real meaningful change that will ensure that our children and grandchildren can still enjoy coarse fishing in Scotland for generations to come.  Click the link below to:

JOIN TODAY


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