It’s an idyllic scene - anglers sitting beside a river bank waiting for a catch.
But, like many activities, there are rules and regulations to which the fishing community has to adhere. They need to know where they can legally and safely fish, they need rod licences - any angler over the age of twelve fishing for trout, salmon, trout, coarse fish or eels needs a licence - and need to be aware of the annual closed seasons to allow fish to spawn.
The Environment Agency (EA) and police, supported by the Angling Trust and Canal and River Trust, are responsible for enforcing the laws governing waterways across England, checking that anglers are aware of and comply with the rules.
Aiding them in their task are members of the public, who have signed up to a scheme that has seen much success since its introduction five years ago. The Voluntary Bailiff Service (VBS), began as a pilot project in the South East England and is now being rolled out to the rest of the country.
“The role of the bailiff is to be the eyes and ears of the Angling community, to support the Environment Agency,” says Giles Evans, one of six regional enforcement managers - former police officers who run the service in England. “This is a Neighbourhood Watch-style role, a way to record and report matters that will gain intelligence that is fed into a secure website.”
All volunteers are vetted, inducted and trained in the role. At present there are 44 inductees regionally and more than 324 nationally.
From the intelligence gained, the EA and the police can target areas where problems have been identified. These include illegal fishing using nets, lines and traps and fish theft.
Angler Chas White, who has been a fisherman for 58 years, volunteers on rivers in West and North Yorkshire. “I wanted to give something back, and this is a good way to do it,” he says. “I’ve stopped and chatted to anglers, some were fishing where they shouldn’t have been but were unaware of that. I’ve made a few friends through the scheme too.”
Volunteers are recruited through the Angling Trust website, from presentations to angling clubs, posters in tackle shops, social media and from word-of-mouth from active volunteers, who have seen the benefit of the scheme
“The areas that are covered are decided by the volunteers, and sometimes we carry out joint patrols with the Environment Agency and the police,” says Giles.
Giles, whose area covers Yorkshire and the North East of England, has two volunteer area co-ordinators, who assist him with the running of the scheme.
The latest figures from the EA show an increase in people going fishing and this year licences are free to those aged under 16.
The VBS was identified as being needed as anglers often resorted to social media to highlight issues rather than reporting them to the respective agencies. It gives a structure to record and report matters, with a raised awareness of other crimes.
“Illegal fishing and fish theft, is linked to other crimes such as rural, wildlife, business, organised and hate crime,” says Giles.
The trust’s aims have the backing of the National Police Chiefs’ Council. West Yorkshire Police and other forces in the region have also signed up to a joint operation called Traverse, with the trust and EA, which tackles Illegal fishing and fish theft . “Poaching is no longer taking ‘one for the pot’,” says Giles. “This form of criminality is covered under the 1968 Theft Act and police forces are now becoming aware and using these powers.”
A number of people have been convicted of illegal fishing including three men fined a total of £771 for fishing on the Aire and Calder Navigation without licences, and a further man fined £220 with costs of £127 for illegal fishing on the River Aire.
Joanne Kay, team leader in the EA’s department of fisheries, biodiversity and geomorphology, says the scheme is progressing well in Yorkshire. “The voluntary bailiffs act as eyes and ears on our river banks and waterways.
“The intelligence and information they obtain help us to target areas of poor compliance within the law. If people are fishing without a rod licence, they are reported. The information helps us to prosecute anglers who don’t buy a licence.”
Much work is also being done through the Angling Trust’s Building Bridges project - aimed at educating and integrating with Eastern European anglers, whose practices can differ from those permitted in the UK.
The Angling Trust works with angling clubs on matters of reporting issues and a lot of clubs have internal rules around areas such as of littering . “Some will be very pro-active on this issue and I have fished in competitions in which, if you are seen littering, you will be disqualified,” says Giles.
“All responsible anglers and clubs, do respect the rivers and like many things, the minority spoil things for the majority.”
The next induction day for the VBS is in Thirsk on April 8. If anyone is interested, then please email me email@example.com
*To find out more about the scheme visit anglingtrust.net; facebook.com/AnglingTrustYorkshireRegion/posts
*Issues surrounding angling can be reported to the EA on 0800 807060 or the police on 101. If a crime is in progress ring 999.