Taking fish is a crime

Published: Monday, 18 February 2019

TAKING any native fish species away from a canal or reservoir is illegal, as is using anything other that a rod, pole or line.

GPROrphThe news from Orph Mable that two men are setting out at dusk with nets in an unlicensed boat from the 48 hours moorings on the Staff & Worcs Canal by the junction with the Shropshire Union has alerted Canal; & River Trust, with its National Fisheries and Angling Manager, John Ellis, telling us of the illegality of their operation. (Photograph by Orph Mable.)

Contact the Environment Agency

He pointing out that anyone using anything other than a rod and line/pole is illegal, and should boaters see such activity to contact the Environment Agency, that has a 24 hour hotline—0800 80 70 60. (For Wales call 03000 65 3000.)  John refers us to the law appertaining to fish theft and so we include the pertinent facts:

What is fish theft?—The taking away of fish from a fishery without the permission of the owner with a view to permanently depriving the owner of the fish is an act of thievery. In lakes, canals and reservoir fisheries, the fish belong to the owner of the fishery bed. This offence is covered by Section 1 of the Theft Act 1968.

On the other hand, fish in rivers and streams, being free to swim freely for miles on end, are deemed to be wild. Wild fish cannot be stolen.

What is ‘theft of fishing rights’?You can commit a version of theft without physically removing someone’s property. Here’s an analogy – albeit with a few subtle legal differences – that will help explain the position. If a person was to walk onto a golf course and complete the 18 holes without permission or payment to the owner of the golf course, they would have committed an offence. They would not have needed to have physically removed a bucket of sand from a greenside bunker or have stolen the flagpole from the 18th green.

The same situation applies to fishing rights. You don’t need to physically remove anything from a fishery per se. An offence is committed under para 2 Schedule 1 of the Theft Act 1968 if a person takes or destroys or attempts to take or destroy fish where there is a private right of fishery. The word ‘take’ does not need to involve any physical removal. A fish may be ‘taken’ even if it is ultimately returned to the water totally unharmed.

In summary, being at a fishery and undertaking angling activity without the correct permission is sufficient for a crime to have been committed under schedule 1 of the Theft Act 1968.

The stealing of fish using rod and lineCatching a fish by rod and line and then taking the fish away from a Canal & River Trust owned canal or reservoir fishery is an act of theft.

Our agreements with clubs and the conditions of our Waterway Wanderers permit do not permit the removal of fish. There is one caveat to that. Non-native fish species cannot be returned to the water by anglers and must, as the law currently stands, be removed. The provisions relating to non-native fish are covered by two separate pieces of legislation. These are the Wildlife & Countryside Act (1981) which is enforced by the police, as well as under the Keeping & Introduction of Fish Regulations (2015) which is regulated by the Environment Agency (EA). Who said fisheries law was straight-forward?

Reporting rod and line fish theft—Fish theft crime should be reported to the police as they are the body responsible for the enforcement of the Theft Act. To do this, simply dial 101. Don’t delay, as in the ideal world the culprits will need to be caught red handed in the act of committing theft. Photographic evidenceif it’s able to be gathered safelyand car registration numbers are always good evidence to collect. This evidence could be useful to the police in taking the case forward.

Even if the police are not able to attend, it’s imperative that the crime is formally registered. For without the police building up the true picture of the extent of local crime, they will not have the evidence to fully appreciate where their priorities might be. Sometimes the police will say, genuinely but in error, that fish theft offences are an Envirenmental Agency matter.

Still active

Orph Mable further informs us that the two men are still active, going out at dusk in their GRP cruiser towing a canoe loaded with a net...