Thetford: Lakes chief fined over predator fish

FISHERY manager Timothy Phillips has today been fined �1,650 for illegally keeping live sturgeon in a fishing lake at Thetford.

It was the first Environment Agency prosecution under the Import of Live Fish Act (ILFA).

King’s Lynn Magistrates’ Court heard that the only place sturgeon should be kept is in an ornamental pond and not in fisheries - despite the fact they are attractive to anglers.

Phillips was accused of keeping prohibited non-native live fish at Witchlake Fishery, Oakwood Park, Blackdyke Road, Hockwold cum Wilton, in Thetford, without a valid licence. He admitted the offence and was fined �1,650 and ordered to pay �2,000 towards costs.

Chris Badger, prosecuting, told magistrates it was recognized that the spread of non-native species such as sturgeon had a ‘far-reaching and undesirable’ effect on animals and plants in rivers and lakes.

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He said they could introduce new diseases and parasites into water.

“Non-native species of flora and fauna are considered to be the second biggest threat to biodiversity worldwide after habitat loss and destruction,” he said.

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Mr Badger told magistrates that Phillips took over the licence for the site in June 2007. In January 2008 he applied to amend the licence to allow the keeping of sturgeon and change the name of the site to Witchlake from Macs Lake.

A time-limited licence was issued in March by the Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science with a condition to remove all sturgeon from the lake by August 31, 2008, but the fish were not removed, he told them.

Mr Badger said Defra wrote to Phillips after an extension was given to March 2009 but still the fish had not been removed.

They pointed out that putting sturgeon back into the fishing lake was a criminal offence. His temporary licence was revoked in August 2010.

Mr Badger said: “The reason Phillips did not remove the sturgeon from the lake is simply that there is a financial advantage to him in not doing so. Sturgeon are attractive to anglers and he was able to charge a premium in fees as a result.”

Environment Agency officers went to the fishery in August and removed by electro-fishing five sturgeon which were given to Phillips to put into an ornamental lake. At least one of the sturgeon showed signs of hook marks showing it had been previously caught.

Phillips admitted to keeping the sturgeon illegally but always insisted that he told anglers not to return them to the fishing lake.

However, an off-duty Environment Agency officer who went to the fishery was never given that information and witnessed sturgeon being caught and returned to the lake.

Over two days he saw more than 800lb of sturgeon hooked, landed and returned, Mr Badger told the court. None were ever removed to another water.

Phillips told investigating officers that he considered that all the fish in the predator lake belonged to the owner of the fishery and he was not responsible for putting them there.

The court was told that Phillips had been sent to prison for two months for four previous convictions for environmental offences in 2002 relating to the illegal keeping, treating and deposit of waste tyres without a licence.

After the hearing Adrian Saunders, Environment Agency fisheries enforcement campaigns manager said after the case: “Fishery owners should be aware that if they have non-native fish or are thinking of introducing ILFA species they must apply for an ILFA licence, and comply with any conditions, or face the consequences.

“Failure to deal with this now may result in increased costs in the future, as planned legislation will give the Environment Agency improved powers to remove fish and recover its costs, where the owner fails to comply.”

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