Fish poachers were sent a clear warning today (Friday) after two men were ordered to surrender their boats after being found guilty of stealing a large quantity of fish from a river in Norfolk.

Oleg Stepin, 43 and Gunnar Kaspars, 39, from Aberdeen, Scotland, pleaded guilty at Kings Lynn Magistrates Court to charges relating to the theft of fish from the River Wissey in Norfolk. The two men also pleaded guilty to not having a rod licence and fishing in the closed season, contrary to the Salmon and Freshwater Fisheries Act 1975. Oleg Stepin pleaded guilty to additional charges of using an unregistered boat and using a gill net* – an unlicensed instrument.

Oleg Stepin was ordered to pay costs of £60 and to surrender his boat, outboard motor and petrol pump, worth around £4,000. Gunnar Kaspars was also ordered to pay costs of £60 and to surrender his dinghy, worth up to £1,000.

Neil Sampson, National Fisheries Enforcement Officer at the Environment Agency, said: “Although we were disappointed that these men were not given a more severe sentence, the forfeiture of their boats will leave a large hole in both their pockets.

“The result sends out a clear message that illegal fishing practices will not be tolerated – the Environment Agency will take strong action to ensure offenders are brought to face justice. It also highlights the importance of vigilance from the public and how by working together with the Norfolk Constabulary, we were able to bring this case to court.

“Illegal fishing can not only cause environmental damage, but fishing without a valid rod licence disadvantages those anglers who have paid their contribution towards helping maintain fisheries work that benefits all anglers in England and Wales.”

Stepin and Kaspars were caught when a boat owner who was cruising in the area noticed the pair, along with two other men, had set up a camp along the banks of the river and were barbequing fish. The boat owner notified the Norfolk Constabulary and police officers attending the scene found the four men camping with an unregistered boat and a large amount of fishing equipment, including an illegal gill net.

DC Ian Young of the Norfolk Constabulary said: “Following the tip off, our police officers attended the scene found fish on a barbeque and several live fish threaded on a washing line and kept alive in the river. The live fish, including several tench between four and seven pounds and a two and a half pound perch, all had scale damage. The perch died on its release.

“Police officers seized several items including a boat with an outboard motor, a small dinghy and fishing equipment. All four men were arrested. Of the two other men arrested, one was released without charge. The other man failed to re-appear and is now wanted by the police. It is believed that he has left the country.

“During the course of our investigation it became clear that the four men were an organised group who had travelled from Scotland to a remote part of Norfolk with the intention of stealing a large quantity of fish.”

The Environment Agency is taking an intelligence led approach to tackling illegal fishing by using Intelligence Officers and crime analysts. We can better target our resources to patrol the rivers vulnerable locations and hot spots for illegal activities.