Salmon poachers likely to have slipped the net

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A JOINT police force effort targeting salmon poachers in south Scotland earlier this year drew a blank on the River Tweed, writes Sally Gillespie.

But that is not to say they are not active according to local wildlife crime officer Ruaraidh Hamilton.

“The poachers were lucky they weren’t out at that time but that is not to say there are no poachers down here,” he said.

Three Scottish forces – Fife, Central and Lothian and Borders – worked together with the River Tweed Commission, the Forth salmon fishery and Stirling Council on the River Forth and River Tweed systems over four days in February and March. A net was found in East Lothian and three men were found in possession of firearms near a river in Fife, but there was no illegal activity on the Tweed or its tributaries.

PC Hamilton, Lothian and Borders Police wildlife and environmental crime co-ordinator, said: “This was a big team effort and it has sent a message to poachers that the three forces are serious about targeting their activities and that we will use all the expertise at our disposal to do so.

“We will continue to work with water bailiffs across the respective force areas in order to enhance our knowledge, and we will continue to co-ordinate to target known poaching hot spots. Good conservation work can be easily undone by a poacher putting a net across a river. We are determined to prevent this from happening.”

The nature of poaching is different to even a decade ago said PC Hamilton.

“The dynamics have changed. We are no longer finding it’s one person going out to take a fish to feed his family, folk are doing it on a commercial basis and in some cases making a lot of money. And increased numbers of fish are killed.”

No serious poaching has been recorded since an abandoned net across the Tweed drowned wildlife, including two otters, last July.

PC Hamilton said: “If someone gets spooked and leaves the net the fish continue going into it and will drown: these criminals are quite prepared to do that rather than get caught.”

He continued: “Angling clubs on the River Tweed operate a catch and release policy, there is a great amount of conservation done by the River Tweed Commission and other similar organisations, and somebody putting a net across the river or where fish congregate before migrating can have a very serious effect.

“Clearly the Borders does very well from tourism from the Tweed, people coming here to fish and stay locally and spend money here: everyone has got to work together to prevent this kind of thing.”

The National Wildlife Crime Unit provided intelligence analysis and one of their officers helped with the joint forces initiative which was funded by the Scottish Government. The intelligence, along with the water bailiffs’ knowledge and expertise, enabled the police action to target known poaching ‘hot spots’.

PC Hamilton at the time described as “callous and cruel” last July’s poaching when two young otters were trapped after they dived to get fish held in the illegal net. And he estimated the net near Horncliffe, which also drowned 13 sea trout and a cormorant, had been in place for up to two weeks.

He said this week: “We rely on the public as our eyes and ears out there and if anyone has any suspicions please contact us.”

Anyone with information can contact Crimestoppers in confidence and anonymously on 0800 555 111.