The Environment Agency is launching a new initiative to protect Solent salmon stocks and is calling on the public and businesses to help play a major role in safeguarding their future.
The new Salmon Watch campaign is part of the Environment Agency’s ongoing crackdown against fish theft and illegal angling. Since a previous anti-poaching campaign was launched across Hampshire in October 2012, Environment Agency Fisheries Officers have arrested or cautioned five poachers who were caught fishing illegally as a direct result of reports we received from the public. This is good news, but there is still much more work to do to clamp down on fish crime, particularly involving the theft of salmon.
Rivers in Hampshire are world famous for their salmon populations but surveys on the Rivers Test and Itchen show that numbers are sadly well below their conservation target. Salmon eggs hatch in May and juveniles spend just one year in freshwater before migrating to the sea. After one or two years they return to their home rivers, congregating in our estuaries in the spring and spending much of the summer in the lower reaches of the rivers before spawning late in the year.
Whilst in the estuaries salmon are legally protected, but evidence gathered from regular Environment Agency patrols has demonstrated that the prized fish are being increasingly targeted by poachers.
Tim Sykes of the Environment Agency, said; “The Environment Agency is absolutely committed to eliminating illegal fishing and we will have no hesitation in prosecuting those who commit fish crime to the fullest extent of the law. It is of great concern that salmon numbers are down in part due to fish theft.
“Our specialist fisheries enforcement officers continue to carry out regular patrols and covert surveillance at poaching hotspots to target individuals involved in illegal angling activities. They have also stepped up their day and night boat patrols along the coast to clamp down on illegal fishing.
“However we cannot tackle this crime alone. Legitimate salmon anglers on the Rivers Test and Itchen provide us with major help in keeping a watchful eye on our rivers. We urge all those who value the future of angling in the Solent and the preservation of this iconic species to report any suspicious fishing activities to us so that our teams can swiftly take action.”
Chris Pearson of the Itchen Salmon Group, said 'Salmon rod fisheries on the Itchen voluntarily agreed to a 100% catch and release policy at the turn of the century when it became evident that the numbers of returning salmon had fallen to critical levels.
“Since that time modest improvements in the runs of salmon have been made but the stock still remains vulnerable and the Itchen Salmon Group fully supports this crackdown on salmon poaching. Poaching is an insidious activity that not only removes precious salmon from the river but leaves others horribly mutilated and unable to complete their life cycle.'
The Environment Agency is urging those who value the Solent to report any suspicious fishing activities to us. Look out for nets in estuaries or nets strung between moorings in our local harbours and marinas.
The poachers toolkit: A snatch is a weighted treble-hook on a hand-held line which is used to deliberately ‘foul hook’ or impale fish – with this poachers can catch the fish faster than with a rod and line but it causes a lot of damage to the fish. Look out for individuals leaning over bridges and suddenly jerking a hand-held fishing line or, if they have successfully hooked a fish, landing a large silver fish without a fishing rod.
If anglers or members of the public do come across these illegally set instruments they should leave them in place and report the location immediately.
Poaching on a large scale is only financially worthwhile if there is a commercial demand. That is created by a few unscrupulous local food outlets which are prepared to commit an offence by buying illegally caught salmon and sea trout.
To find out more about the Salmon Watch initiative please visit our website: http://www.environment-agency.gov.uk/homeandleisure/news/127658.aspx
If anyone thinks that they have seen any illegal fishing, or trade in illegally caught fish, they should phone the Environment Agency’s 24-hour incident hotline on 0800 807060 or call Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555111 with information on environmental crime. National and Regional byelaws can be found on the Environment Agency’s website: www.environment-agency.gov.uk/fish