The owners of Clawford Fisheries in Holsworthy ordered to pay out nearly £35k after discovery of illegal fish.

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THE OWNERS of a fishery in North Devon have been ordered to pay nearly £35,000 by magistrates for keeping invasive species of fish.

John Ray, 68, and his wife Wanda Ray, 63, of Clawford Fisheries in Holsworthy, were taken to court by the Environment Agency in the first case of its kind in the region.

Mr and Mrs Ray faced charges of keeping prohibited species top mouth gudgeon and wels catfish, and a further charge was made against Mr Ray of keeping grass carp.

The couple had previously obtained a licence for the catfish and carp, which had expired in 2007 and was never renewed.

Keiron Martyn, prosecuting on behalf of the Environment Agency, said the top mouth gudgeon, which originally hails from Asia, was in the highest risk category of invasive species and is banned in all UK waters.

Although only three-to-four inches long, the top mouth gudgeon is not permitted in any water due to its high risk to native wildlife.

The wels catfish and grass carp are both allowed in isolated waters with a licence.

The Agency decided to investigate the premises after Mr Ray had posted on the fishery’s website that they housed the banned species rosy minnow to ‘see what the agency would do about it’.

Tom Bradnock, defending, claimed it was an ‘act of mischief’ on the defendant’s part which had resulted in dire consequences for the couple, who have spent 25 years building up the business.

A five day investigation by the Agency in January led to the discovery not of rosy minnow, but of the three prohibited species.

As a result a £170,000 clean up operation which involved draining and sterilising the 16 lakes in the 78 acre estate took place.

Mr and Mrs Ray were ordered by North Devon Magistrates’ Court to pay £4,950 in fines and £30,000 in costs after pleading guilty to the five offences.

Mr Bradnock said the couple had not deliberately introduced the fish and they suspected the Top Mouth Gudgeon had been introduced by contaminated netting.

He said the couple had already agreed to contribute £50,000 towards the cost of the operation and had put the property up for sale.

Matt Brazier, of the Environment Agency, said: “Invasive non-native fish pose serious risks to our native species and habitats and are incredibly costly to the angling industry and the vital recreation and employment opportunities it provides.

“The Environment Agency is working hard with fishery owners and the fishing industry to prevent their spread and where high risk invasive fish are stocked illegally we will take appropriate action to ensure they are contained and removed.”

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