Three Durham men have been banned from holding a rod licence for two years by magistrates after they were found guilty of intending to poach from a Wolsingham beck.

Graham Robert Wilson, aged 38, and Mark Steven Pouton, aged 42, both of Local Avenue, Sherburn Hill, and Anthony John Starkie, aged 35, of Front Street, Sherburn Hill appeared at Bishop Auckland magistrates court yesterday (July 5) in a case brought by the Environment Agency.

They all denied the offence but were found guilty and each given an 18 month conditional discharge. Starkie was also ordered to pay £450 court costs, Wilson was ordered to pay £350 costs and Pouton was ordered to pay £200 costs.

The court heard that Environment Agency fisheries enforcement officers were on patrol on November 8, 2006 when they spotted a light being shone into Waskerley Beck at Wolsingham.

Helen Ferguson, prosecuting for the Environment Agency, said when they stopped the three defendants, they were holding a lamp and claimed to be only looking at the fish. However a telescopic gaff was found at the feet of one of the men which indicated their intention to take migratory fish.

She told the court that the beck is one of the most important spawning burns to feed into the River Wear for migratory trout, and at the time of the offence, it held a number of spawning fish.

However the men said they were looking for fish because one of them had never seen spawning fish before but this explanation was not accepted by the magistrates.

Magistrates ordered the lamp, battery and gaff to be destroyed.

After the court case, Environment Agency team leader for fisheries enforcement, Kevin Summerson said: “I hope this serves as a stark warning to those who think it is acceptable to take fish illegally from our rivers and stillwaters. 

“Compared to a national decline of stocks of migratory fish, the rivers in the North East are showing healthy growing populations, and it is the role of my team to make sure this continues. Anglers can be assured we will always take action against this type of activity no matter when and where it occurs.”

It is illegal to fish for sea trout from November 1 to April 2 inclusive, and for salmon from November 1 to January 31 inclusive. Its purpose is to protect fish during the breeding season.

More information about local angling byelaws can be obtained from local Environment Agency offices by calling 08708 506 506.