Nearly 700 anglers were caught fishing without a rod licence by Environment Agency officers over the May Bank Holiday weekend.

“Enforcement teams made checks on more than 11,000 anglers at 943 waters across England and Wales between April 29 and May 1 and caught 671 illegal anglers who were cheating honest anglers,” explained Environment Agency Head of Fisheries Dafydd Evans.

“Fishing without a licence is an offence and those caught fishing illegally face tough penalties, including fines of up to £2,500 and a ban from fishing. The message is sinking in with evading anglers, as the rate of evasion dropped from 7% in the May 2005 blitz to 6% this time round.

“Our officers directed maximum effort to rivers and lakes where we believed cheats would be present. People who fish without a licence are cheating the system and their fellow anglers. Around £19m is raised through rod licences and invested in fisheries work that benefits all anglers, fish stocks and the waterside environment. We will continue with our blitz programme to bring rod licence evasion down.”

Almost 80% of all waters visited had no offences detected. However, a number of anglers believed a licence was valid for 12 months from the date of purchase. This is not case. All rod licences expire on March 31. The reminder comes after almost £600,000 was paid in fines and costs by more than 4,600 illegal anglers in 2005. On average, these illegal fishing trips cost anglers £128 each in fines and costs. A full season coarse and trout licence costs just £24.

“Our staff are better equipped than ever. With access to databases at the switch of a mobile phone enforcement officers can verify address and licence details, including whether they purchased a licence the previous year. All this makes catching licence evaders an easier process,” continued Dafydd.