“IT IS all about eyes and ears.”

Jurgen Mitchell speaks of his role in helping to make sure fishing is carried out legally and properly along rivers, canals and lakes across West Yorkshire.

As area coordinator for the Angling Trust’s Voluntary Bailiff Service (VBS), he oversees 17 volunteers across the county who patrol the waterways, reporting any suspicious activity to the Environment Agency (EA), police and the Angling Trust.

The friendly volunteers walk along the river, possibly stopping to chat informally to an angler, but only if the situation is judged to be safe.

“We know what to look for,” says Jurgen, a retired transport manager, “We don’t check rod licences but, due to our training, we have knowledge of fisheries laws and bylaws and almost all of us are anglers ourselves, and angling is a friendly sport. We carry out a quick risk assessment - the top priority is safety and we would not put ourselves at risk as this is an eyes and ears approach.

“If necessary we would contact the Environment Agency and, depending on the incident, the local police. We always record the patrol on our secure website.”

He adds: “If I am aware of possible illegal fishing I try and make sure that the matter has been reported. If there have been several reports, I will try and arrange a patrol with the EA and police then contact members of the VBS and find out who can attend, bearing in mind that it is voluntary.”

The River Aire is among those waterways in the Bradford district where patrols are carried out.

A series of training events are held throughout the year for volunteers to attend, to provide additional training from the Angling Trust, EA and police.

Established in 2012, the VBS has been a great success across the country. Volunteers in West Yorkshire are involved in Operation Traverse, co-ordinated by the Angling Trust, which sees West Yorkshire police and partners joining forces to focus on illegal fishing, rod licence compliance, anti-social behaviour and other crime, including rural and wildlife incidents.

This year, the coarse angling close season from March 15 to June 15 was nationally supported by nearly 500 volunteers who undertook 6,555 hours of patrols as part of the annual Operation CLAMPDOWN, reporting 111 incidents to the EA and 34 to the police. Almost 80 additional pieces of information were also submitted.

Across the North-East and Yorkshire, 80 volunteers - 50 in Yorkshire - carried out 1,623 hours of patrols, including seven joint patrols with the police and/or the EA. Thirteen incidents were reported as well as 32 intelligence logs.

The latest national fishing licence blitz, covering the first two weekends of the new season, saw EA fisheries enforcement officers check 1,461 licences and report 88 fishing illegally without a licence. Those found guilty of unlicensed fishing by the courts face a criminal conviction and a fine of up to £2,500.

Giles Evans, the Angling Trust’s regional enforcement manager for North East England, is in regular contact with the volunteers. He says: “Patrols take place all year round, not only in the close season, and are very useful to the Environment Agency and police as they let officers know where the problems are. These problems can range from illegal fishing to rural and wildlife crime as well as antisocial behaviour.

“The volunteers put a lot of work into their roles. They feed information into a secure website and we disseminate it, ensuring that our partners get the intelligence they need.”

Patrols in West Yorkshire have also reported the Illegal trapping of non-native crayfish intended for the table, a practice that requires a licence as there is a ban on trapping the invasive American signal crayfish to protect the native population of white-clawed crayfish.

The signal crayfish carries a fungal disease which is deadly to the native population. They eat their own young, which means if adults are trapped and removed there aren’t enough to control the population, which can lead to an increase in numbers.

Unregulated trapping can also lead to people spreading the disease to areas where the white-clawed crayfish still live and illegal traps can be a danger to other wildlife and protected species.

Giles adds: “Our advice is to go fishing but be legal. The money from the rod licence is invested back into fishing, helping to fund services such as the Voluntary Bailiff Service, Angling Improvement Fund and Fishery Management Advisors”

Graeme Storey, fisheries manager with the EA, says: “Our fisheries enforcement patrols continue all year round. Anyone tempted to fish illegally should know that they are likely to be challenged at any time of the day or night. With the support of our partners and the VBS there is an increased likelihood of being caught out - don’t risk it.”

Dilip Sarkar, national enforcement manager with the Angling Trust says: “This year’s Operation CLAMPDOWN was our most successful to date with a record number of volunteers trained and available, and over 70 joint patrols with the EA or police. The VBS is now making a tangible contribution to tackling illegal fishing, which is welcomed by the Angling Trust and our partners.”

*For information about the VBS email Karen.Sarkar@Anglingtrust.net

Any angler who has suspicions of illegal fishing or any crime can call the EA on 0800 807060 and/or the police on 101. If a crime is in progress ring 999.