Environmental crime is on the increase because there are big profits to be made. And where there is big money to be made dangerous criminals, who will stop at nothing to claim their share of the spoils, will be found…and fish are high on the ‘most wanted’ list.


Now, the Environment Agency has introduced specialist surveillance and enforcement teams to make best use of its resources in targeting this type of criminal activity, such as the illegal exploitation of salmon, trout, eels and elvers, the unauthorised movement of freshwater fish, and poaching.


“The High Impact Fisheries Enforcement (HIFE) teams across England and Wales are fully trained and equipped to address professionally the threat of serious illegal fishing,” explained HIFE Project Executive Steve Moore. “They will complement the separate teams we have carrying out lower risk enforcement activities such as rod licence checking.


“When enforcing the fisheries laws, our SAFFA-warranted officers have the same powers as police officers. In certain circumstances they may arrest suspects, and we are making sure all staff involved in this work are trained and equipped to do it safely. All officers involved in high impact fisheries enforcement work are now equipped with body armour, hinged handcuffs and extendable batons.


“The covert nature of some of our surveillance activities means that both training and equipment differ from the ‘norm’ of fisheries enforcement.  Making arrests and seizing illegal equipment can present difficult and dangerous challenges. Officers involved in fisheries enforcement have reported incidents of abuse and threatening behaviour, most suspects carry knives and occasionally we encounter firearms. The health and safety of our officers is critical to us. Issuing this protective equipment to specialist teams of well-trained staff allows them to protect fisheries effectively, whilst keeping the public, offenders and the officers safe.


The Environment Agency has a specific duty enshrined in several laws to maintain, improve and develop salmon, trout, freshwater fish and eel fisheries. The same laws oblige the agency to regulate the fisheries by a system of licensing and to confer the powers of a constable on water bailiffs who are warranted under the Salmon and Freshwater Fisheries Act (SAFFA).


fisheries enforcement (2)

Water bailiffs as constables have the power under section 32 of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 to search arrested persons for evidence and weapons. They have the authority to carry batons and handcuffs when enforcing fisheries legislation.


“Ensuring our fisheries are protected is not the job it used to be. Environmental crime does not take place 9 til 5 Monday to Friday and is often committed in an organised and structured way,” continued Mr Moore.


“Illegal activity can crop up wherever people think there’s money to be made or corners to be cut. In terms of fisheries, it impacts on the numbers of fish successfully breeding and increases the risks from fish diseases. It also denies law-abiding people fishing the opportunities offered by high quality, healthy fisheries.”


The Environment Agency has worked with the Police and other agencies to develop these new arrangements and they are confident this will start to make a real dent in this key area of enforcement.


“Much of our work involves contact with local fishery owners and fishing clubs. We are also exploring how we can make these contacts more effective to improve our information exchange and intelligence gathering. Better collaboration will make it more difficult for offenders,” concluded Mr Moore.


If members of the public have any information about this incident, they are requested to phone the Environment Agency’s 24-hour incident hotline in confidence on 0800 807060.