Elver fishermen banned for using illegal nets

Two elver fishermen face lengthy bans after being caught with illegal nets on the River Parrett in Somerset. Neil Champion from Bridgwater and Mark Bailey from Street were also ordered to pay more than £4,000 in fines and costs and had their fishing equipment confiscated and destroyed by the Environment Agency.

Fishing for elvers or glass eels is strictly controlled to safeguard stocks of adult eels that have declined in recent years. Fishermen must obtain an Environment Agency licence and can only use hand-operated dip nets up to a certain size.

On February 8, 2008 Agency bailiffs were carrying out routine licence checks on the tidal Parrett near Bridgwater when they found Neil Champion and Mark Bailey using elver nets in conjunction with a pole and a rope tethered to the riverbank. Nets fixed in this manner are prohibited under the National Eel Fishing Byelaws 2004.

Both men were in possession of elver licences and should have been aware of the byelaws that clearly state dip nets must only be operated by hand and not have any other instrument attached.

The elver fishery on the River Parret supports a number of licensed netsmen. A licence costs £69.00 a year. Fishermen catch the baby eels as they enter freshwater after swimming from the Sargasso Sea.

Elver fishing can be very lucrative. In 2005 they peaked at £525 per kilogram. Elvers currently fetch approximately £200 a kilogram. The use of fixed nets and other illegal methods gives offenders an unfair advantage and enables them to catch more than their fair share of elvers.

‘The Environment Agency will not tolerate illegal fishing as it is damaging eels stocks and is both detrimental to the environment and unfair to law-abiding fishermen. We hope this case sends out a clear message that people caught fishing unlawfully will be prosecuted,’ said Richard Dearnley for the Environment Agency.

On Wednesday (25 June) Bailey and Champion were each fined £1,000 by Bridgwater magistrates and disqualified from holding an elver licence for three and two years respectively. Bailey, of Houndswood Drove, Street was also ordered to pay £1,003 costs and a £15 victim surcharge. Champion, of Waterfod Close, Bridgwater was ordered to pay £1,035 costs.