An experienced eel fisherman has been prosecuted for setting an oversized net in the River Witham, Lincolnshire last summer.
Terrence Roy Smith was fined £100 and ordered to pay £100 costs by Skegness Magistrates’ Court on Friday, March 7, 2008, after pleading guilty to breaching the National Eel Bylaws 2004.
Magistrates were told that he had been a commercial fisherman for 30 years and should have been aware of the regulations. He had been advised about the byelaws applicable to eels.
A dead otter was discovered in a floating fyke net in the River Witham between Tattershall Bridge and Dogdyke in June. The net was discovered by Environment Agency staff doing weed cutting. It had valid licence tags relating to Smith.
Cardiff University carried out a post mortem on the adult male otter and concluded that the probable cause of death was drowning following being caught in the net.
Prosecuting for the Environment Agency, Mrs Anne-Lise McDonald said the fyke net measured more than 1.31 metres at its entrance ï¿½" eel byelaws state it should be no wider than 1 metre.
Mrs McDonald said: ‘Using a fishing net with an oversized entrance is considered to be financially beneficial due to the increased catch that may be obtained from having a larger entrance to the net.
‘Two days before his net was found he had visited Southrey (12km upstream) and found two of his six nets set there were missing. He assumed they had been washed away by the floods. He said he normally checked his nets once or twice a week but it had been difficult to check the nets on that visit because the river was in flood.’
He told investigators that during the season he may have up to 100 nets set in watercourses at any one time. They could be set between 10 or 11 months of the year. All his nets are registered with the Environment Agency.
The Environment Agency has control of some of the fishing rights for some considerable distance upstream of where the loose net was found.
In June 2004 letters were sent to all eel nets-men to inform them that eel fishing would be banned on Environment Agency controlled waters as a conservation measure. The area where the net was found is within the Agency’s control.
After the hearing Agency officer Roger Ferguson said: ‘ Whilst we are disappointed with the low level of fine and costs in this case, we will continue to prosecute breaches of fisheries legislation and by-laws where appropriate to ensure the protection and conservation of fisheries.’
Otters are a protected species under national and international legislation. In the UK national and local Biodiversity Action Plans were developed for the otter due to its rapid decline between 1950 and 1970 and its almost total loss in midland and south-eastern counties of England in the 1980s.
Its habitat in Lincolnshire includes the River Witham and its tributaries from Lincoln south to New Holland.