POLICE attempting to stamp out poaching on the River Tweed have launched a partnership approach to tackle the problem.
Lothian and Borders Police have joined with the River Tweed Commission, Scottish Borders Council and Crimestoppers to crack down on those taking fish illegally from the river.
Organised criminal gangs with links to other crimes are often responsible for poaching and travel long distances to illegally remove fish from the river with no regard as to the effect on local wildlife or the rural communities.
In 2010, two otters, a cormorant and 13 dead sea trout were found in a poacher’s net on the Tweed at Horncliffe. It was believed that the net could have been in place for up to two weeks.
Inspector John Scott, from Lothian and Borders Police’s safer communities team, said: “Many people see salmon poachers as people taking one or two fish for the pot.
“However it is more likely that they will operate across a wide area, targeting different river systems depending on the time of year and they can be ruthless in avoiding detection.
“Poachers have no consideration for other people and will often commit other types of crime to fund their poaching, including stealing fuel for vehicles and boats.
“I would urge anyone who suspects someone of being involved in poaching or other wildlife crime to come forward and speak with police or the other agencies involved in salmon conservation.”
As part of the operation, police wildlife crime officers will join colleagues from partner agencies, including the Tweed’s water bailiffs, to monitor the river and deter any criminal activity.
Nick Yonge, director of the Tweed Foundation, told TheSouthern: “Poaching is a small but persistent problem, but nothing like the problem it used to be years ago.”
He added that the water bailiffs had managed to “keep a lid” on poaching in recent years, but welcomed the support from the police and other partners.
Mr Yonge said: “The fish that are poached at this time of year have a particularly high market value, and from a conservation point of view they are the most valuable in the system because there are so few of them.
“The early running fish are breeding fish and there are only just enough of them to sustain the population, so any killed compromises the population.”
Mr Yonge said that while the majority of the poaching occurred on the lower reaches of the Tweed it was not exclusive to those sections of the river.
He added: “These people are taking any fish they can. This is not illegal rod fishing, this is people putting nets in the river at night who are looking to take a large number of fish.”
He emphasised that the police needed the public’s assistance in putting an end to poaching on the Tweed, with information on suspicious people and activity particularly important.
The River Tweed Commission’s 2012 annual report is due out later this month, but the 2011 edition reported that 78 nets were recovered from poachers during the year, down from 93 in 2010.
A total of five poaching cases were submitted to the fiscals and seven to the magistrates in Berwick in 2011.
Crimestoppers Scotland national manager, Kate Jackson, said: “You can play your part in helping to tackle this crime by doing the right thing and passing on information to us anonymously on 0800 555 111 or through our secure online form at www.crimestoppers-uk.org.