The Environment Agency has prosecuted a West Sussex man for using an unauthorised fixed engine in tidal waters and using threatening and abusive behaviour towards Environment Agency staff who approached him.


Mr Colin Cooter of High Street, Selsey, West Sussex appeared before Worthing Magistrates Court on 13 November 2006. He was fined £1200, ordered to pay costs of £1000 to the Environment Agency and forfeited his net worth £1500.


The court heard that on the 18 August 2005 Mr Cooter set a fixed net just outside of Pagham Harbour. On the 19 August 2005 Environment Agency Water Bailiffs and a Byelaw Enforcement Officer from West Sussex County Council attended Selsey Beach to question Mr Cooter. When the water bailiffs arrived they saw Mr Colin Cooter on board his boat.


Mr Cooter had been seen by witnesses the previous evening actively using a fixed net with the floats clearly visible on the water surface outside of Pagham Harbour. Sussex Sea Fisheries Byelaws require that there is a metre and a half of water above the top of a fixed net. This is important to ensure that there is a passage for migratory fish to get access to their native rivers to spawn. As migratory fish travel towards their native rivers, they swim near to the surface of the water so that they can pick up the scent of the fresh water.


When Mr Cooter came ashore, one of the water bailiffs approached him and introduced himself. Mr Cooter became immediately aggressive, swearing and threatening the Officers. Officers called for emergency Police assistance as they believed their safety was at risk. Mr Cooter then attempted to tow his boat up the beach with a 4-wheel drive vehicle. When the rope snapped, he left the scene.


Environment Agency Officer, Paul Newman, said: “Mr Cooter used threatening and abusive language when we approached him. We take cases of abusive behaviour against our staff very seriously. It is unacceptable and we will not hesitate to prosecute anyone who behaves in this way


“Mr Cooter had his net too near to the surface of water. This can cause serious ecological and environmental problems by preventing fish from returning to their native rivers to spawn. We are pleased that the Magistrates took this case seriously – fisheries laws are in place to protect the environment so must be adhered to. We will be carrying out joint inshore patrols with Sussex Sea Fisheries to ensure this happens.


The Environment Agency has also been doing joint inshore patrols with the Marine Fisheries Agency. Last week Officers seized protected Sea Trout found on board a Sussex fishing boat. Officers are now investigating the incident.