A Somerset fisherman has been ordered to pay £1,075 in fines and costs after being caught illegally fishing for eels in East Sussex.


Edward Gilbert, from Culmhead, Taunton, was arrested by Agency fisheries officers with help from Sussex Police on April 12, 2006 after he was seen fishing for elvers on the Scots Float Sluice in Rye, East Sussex.


There has been a serious decline in eel numbers in recent years. To help safeguard stocks elver fishing is now banned in Sussex under section 27 of the Salmon and Freshwater Fisheries Act 1975. The ban also applies to Hampshire and Kent.


Gilbert was found at the scene with approximately 300 elvers in just one fishing tray. He had a valid licence to fish for elvers in Somerset, but that did not entitle him to fish in Sussex where a ban is in force. His fishing equipment, including a drop dip net, was seized and confiscated.


Elver fishing has become a lucrative activity with elvers currently fetching around £250 per kilogram. The market fluctuates and prices have previously risen as high as £525 per kilogram. Most elvers are exported.


Appearing before Hastings Magistrates on Tuesday (December 19), Gilbert, of 5 Otterford Caravan Site, Culmhead, was fined £600 and ordered to pay £475 costs after pleading guilty to illegally fishing for elvers at Scots Float Sluice, Rye, East Sussex on April 12, 2006.


‘Through effective use of the powers of stop, search, seizure and arrest, Environment Agency officers, with support from Sussex Police, were able to stop this fisherman from harming eel stocks. I welcome the Magistrates comment that this was a serious offence,’ said Myles Robinson for the Environment Agency.


‘Unregulated eel fishing can seriously damage the environment. In a bid to protect our eels stocks we are cracking down on illegal fishing in the Sussex and Kent area by regularly patrolling our waters and will not hesitate to prosecute anybody we catch, whether they are from the local area or from further afield.’


The European eel is an important species for our rivers, providing a source of food for species such as otters. The recent decline in eel numbers is thought to have been caused by several factors including changes in the Gulf Stream, pollution, physical barriers to freshwater migration and overfishing.


Around 200 fishermen are licensed to catch elvers in Somerset. The Environment Agency is responsible for regulating fisheries and issuing licences which cost £65 per year.