Environment Agency officers catch kayaker in the act of illegal netting and find bass and sea trout among his haul.

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A court has heard how a paddling poacher tried to make off from fisheries officers after being caught during an illegal fishing spree on the River Taw.

North Devon Magistrates was told on Tuesday how Beverley Nicholls, who lives on a houseboat in Barnstaple, had concealed bass and trout in his kayak after netting them on June 4 last year.

He was given a 12 month conditional discharge and ordered to pay £200 costs plus £15 surcharge after pleading guilty to illegally fishing for bass and sea trout at Runsam Bridge. His net was confiscated.

He was caught after a member of the public saw him using a net and reported the sighting to the Environment Agency. Two fishery officers went to the scene and saw the defendant fishing from his canoe.

When they called to him to ask if he’d caught anything, Nicholls replied ‘only a couple of bass.’

One of the officers suggested he returned the fish to the water unharmed as he was in a bass nursery area. He asked Nicholls to haul in his net so he could check and make sure it was legal. It contained four mullet and a bass.

The officer told the defendant he was going to search his boat and asked him to get out. Nicholls tried to paddle away. The officer waded into the river and grabbed the boat to stop him escaping. At one point Nicholls tried to push the officer away with his paddle. He was warned he was at risk of being reported for obstruction.

The canoe was brought ashore and the defendant asked to empty the boat of fish. When one of the fisheries officers checked inside the canoe he found a large bass that Nicholls had tried to hide.

He was allowed to keep the mullet as netting this species within a bass nursery area is permitted.

The total number of fish recovered included three bass, five rainbow trout, a brown trout, a sea trout and 12 mullet.

Nicholls, who lives on a houseboat in Barnstaple, said he knew there was a bass nursery area on the River Torridge, but didn’t realise it extended to the Taw estuary.

It is illegal to fish for bass from a boat within the tidal limits of the Taw from the old power station at Yelland to a point upstream at New Bridge between May 1 – October 31.

A net limitation order is in place on the Taw and Torridge estuary to protect salmon and sea trout on their migration from the sea to their spawning grounds.

“Bass nurseries help safeguard stocks so it is important fishing from boats is restricted in these areas,” said Paul Carter for the Environment Agency.

“The defendant has an excellent knowledge of the Taw and Torridge and is aware of local restrictions. On this occasion he chose to break the law and was caught.”

The case was the first joint prosecution ever taken in the south west by the Inshore Fisheries Conservation Authority (IFCA) and the Environment Agency.

The EA said people can report illegal fishing and other environmental crimes by calling its free 24-hour hotline 0800 80 70 60.

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