The Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) – the UK’s largest police force – have pledged to support the fight to protect fish and fisheries by signing up to Operation Traverse, the multi-agency initiative targeting illegal fishing and fish theft co-ordinated by the Angling Trust.
A formal agreement was made on 1st March at Raphael’s Park, Romford, Essex, at a socially distanced launch attended by senior MPS representatives from the Wildlife Crime Unit and representatives from key partners involved in the operation including the Environment Agency, local authorities, and members of the Angling Trust Fisheries Enforcement Support Service (FESS).
Under this new operational order, the MPS have made a firm commitment to working collaboratively with partners through the Wildlife Crime Unit to share intelligence and raise awareness of fisheries crime. The aim is to increase reassurance and compliance and ultimately reduce fishing offences, which have a negative impact on the environment and are frequently linked to anti-social behaviour and other crime.
Anglers and members of the public have become increasingly concerned about the destruction of fish stocks and the effect this has on the ecology of London’s environment.
Poaching is not just restricted to rural areas but is also prevalent within our towns and cities, anywhere that has a watercourse can be subject to illegal fishing and fish theft.
Illegal fishing also has wider criminal implications. For example, a specimen carp may be worth in excess of £10,000 and the cost of replacing such fish can have a huge impact on businesses if stolen.
An important part of the MPS commitment to tackle poaching issues across London will include the additional training of Borough Wildlife Crime Officers by the Met’s Specialist Wildlife Crime Unit, Environment Agency and the FESS including the Building Bridges Project, who work to integrate migrant angling communities through positive education on the UK’s conservation-led approach to angling laws and customs.
Officers will also organise days of action to police London’s waterways, common land, public parks and lakes – including joint patrols with the Environment Agency and Angling Trust Voluntary Bailiff Service – targeting areas identified as hotspots for poaching and related crime in response to information and reports from the angling community and the public.
Acting Detective Superintendent Scott Ware from the Met’s Intelligence Unit, said: “Wildlife Crime is something that affects us all in London and it is vitally important we work with partner agencies to ensure we maintain a healthy biodiversity for us all to enjoy.
“Given the complex and diverse nature of wildlife crime it is vital we have solid strategic relationships with a range of stakeholders and only through working together will we have a positive impact on very complex wildlife crimes.
“Operation Traverse is a great example of partnership working with the Environment agency and Angling Trust to tackle the illegal fishing and poaching affecting London’s waterways.
“Through our co-ordinated efforts we will endeavour to educate, and prevent these offences from taking place in the first instance and through intelligence led policing carry out targeted patrols and enforcement where necessary with the wider police community”
David Wilkins, Angling Trust Regional Enforcement Support Manager for the South East, said: “This is terrific news for responsible, law abiding anglers in London and the surrounding areas of the South East and a massive boost for fisheries enforcement in the region.
“We are looking forward to working in partnership with the Metropolitan Police Service to combat poaching and related crime under the banner of Operation Traverse with the Environment Agency and our colleagues from the Building Bridges Project and local members of the Voluntary Bailiff Service – our dedicated eyes and ears out by the water.
“The Met have stepped up to protect fish and fishing, but this intelligence-led activity will only progress if the angling community plays their part by reporting incidents of illegal fishing and suspicious activity to the Environment Agency and police, If it’s not reported it didn’t happen.”
Detective Sergeant Alex McDonald from the Met’s Intelligence Unit, said: “Theft of fish is a crime and we want to stop it. For those who make their living from fishing it has an economic impact and for anglers who enjoy fishing, it ruins their hobby. However, illegal fishing/fish poaching also concerns the wider public as it affects London’s ecosystems.
“Operation Traverse will address fish poaching and its wider criminal implications by giving officers support, training and organising days of action. We plan to work with officers and partners to stop this form of wildlife crime.”
Nino Brancato, Angling Trust National Enforcement Support Manager, said: “This is an important step forward in raising both the profile of fisheries crime and awareness within the police service and that fishing without permission and the theft of fish are criminal matters. The Angling Trust FESS will always look to support both the Environment Agency and the Police in their respective roles.”
Heidi Stone, Fisheries Partnership Manager at Environment Agency, said: “It’s great to have the Metropolitan Police Service on board with Operation Traverse to further strengthen our efforts alongside the Angling Trust’s volunteer bailiffs to combat illegal fishing and fish theft.
“Throughout the ongoing pandemic, we have seen many newcomers out at riverbanks, the majority of whom fish safely and legally. With support from the police and Wildlife Crime Unit, we can all work together to target our patrols and put a stop to activity that is harmful to fish, nearby wildlife, and impacts the fishing experience of law-abiding anglers.
“We urge anyone who spots suspicious activity to report it to the Environment Agency’s hotline – 0800 80 70 60.”
The MPS are urging the public to call 101 if they see fish poaching in progress and report these matters to police. If they have any intelligence and/or rod licence and illegal fishing offences to report, this can be done by calling the Environment Agency on 0800 80 70 60.
Operation Traverse is an ongoing high profile, multi-force, multi-agency activity set up by the Angling Trust in 2014 to provide an intelligence-led platform for the enforcement services and partners to work proactively with each other to raise awareness of illegal fishing, wider related criminality, and organised crime – ensuring an effective response is provided to anglers and the wider community who are encouraged to report suspicious activity and incidents they encounter on the bank.
The majority of police forces in the eastern half of England are now subscribed to Operation Traverse which is complemented in the west by Operation Leviathan. Both operations have been acknowledged as good practice by senior police officers across the country who appreciate that poaching and theft of fish has wider criminal implications and a negative impact on the environment and businesses.
The Angling Trust’s Fisheries Enforcement Support Service including the Building Bridges Project and Voluntary Bailiff Service is funded from fishing licence income as part of the National Angling Strategic Services contract with the Environment Agency.