Environment Agency nets illegal eel fisherman

The Environment Agency has prosecuted a Somerset fisherman who was caught illegally fishing for baby eels in Rye, East Sussex.

Edward Gilbert of Culmhead, Tauton, appeared before Hastings Magistrates on Tuesday 19 December 2006 and pleaded guilty to the offence. He was fined a total of £600 and ordered to pay costs of £475 to the Environment Agency. Fishing equipment seized at the time of Gilbert's arrest was also confiscated.

On 12 April 2006 Environment Agency Fisheries Officers, with the help from Sussex Police, arrested Gilbert who had travelled up from Cornwall to fish on the Scots Float Sluice in Rye, East Sussex. Approximately 300 eels were discovered in just one fishing tray at the scene.

Questioned at Hastings Police Station, the fisherman admitted to fishing for elvers, baby eels, without a licence for the area.

The European eel is an ecologically important species for our rivers, providing a food source for species such as otters. Stocks of the vulnerable fish are in decline as a result of several factors, such as changes in the Gulf Stream, pollution, barriers to freshwater migration and overfishing. The fishing of elvers can only take place in areas where their stocks are maintained. Under Section 27 of the Salmon and Freshwater Fisheries Act 1975, fishing for elvers in Kent, Sussex and Hampshire is banned because of grave concerns over declining numbers.

Myles Robinson, Environment Agency Fisheries officer, commented: “Through effective use of the powers of stop, search, seizure and arrest that Environment Agency Water Bailiffs have and with support from Sussex Police, we were able to stop the fisherman from harming eel stocks. I welcome the Magistrates comment that this was a very serious offence. Unregulated eel fishing can seriously damage the environment and offenders will be punished.

“In a bid to protect our eel stocks we are cracking down on illegal fishing in the Kent area by regularly patrolling our waters and will not hesitate to prosecute anybody we catch, whether they are from the local area or from further afield”