A Bridgwater man caught fishing for elvers with an illegal net has been ordered to pay £1,000 in fines and costs.
Environment Agency bailiffs were carrying out routine checks on the River Parrett at Saltlands, Bridgwater on February 7, 2008 when they found Matthew Godbeer fishing with a fixed net.
An elver dip net should only be operated by hand. Officer’s saw that Godbeer had attached a rope and float to his net and fixed the net handle to the riverbank using a stake. A series of long poles had been attached to the net to keep it in a fixed position in the river.
A net used in this way, known as a ‘fixed engine’, gives a fisherman an unfair advantage and enables him to catch more than his fair share of elvers. Eel numbers have declined in recent years and it is important stocks are not over-fished.
After questioning Godbeer, Agency officers seized his net and equipment.
‘Illegal fishing damages eel stocks, is detrimental the environment and unfair to law abiding fishermen. We will not tolerate the use of fixed nets and will prosecute anyone we catch fishing illegally on the River Parrett,’ said Richard Dearnley for the Environment Agency.
Godbeer, 20, of 66 King George Avenue, Bridgwater, was fined £500 and ordered to pay £500 costs by local magistrates after pleading guilty to contravening the National Eel Fishing Byelaws 2004 and the Salmon and Freshwater Fisheries Act 1975.
The Environment Agency regularly inspects the elver fishery on the River Parrett. Fishermen pay £69 a year for a licence. Dip nets are used to catch elvers – baby eels – as they enter freshwater after their journey from the Sargasso Sea. Elver fishing can be lucrative. In 2005 the price of elvers peaked at £525 per kilogram. They currently fetch around £200 per kilogram.