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Old 14th April 2011, 07:26
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Default Poacher caught trying to 'gaff' salmon on River Exe in broad daylight

A Minehead man was today ordered to pay £400 in fines and costs after he was caught fishing on the River Exe with a gaff and a net. Both methods are illegal.

The case was brought by the Environment Agency.

On November 6, 2010 self-employed builder Toby Neilson was seen using a gaff at Bridgetown weir near Dulverton. A local angler said the defendant was using the gaff – a pole with a large metal hook on the end - in a ‘snatching/sweeping motion’. Neilson is alleged to have told the angler he was ‘trying to take a fish for the freezer.’

Neilson later visited a fishing and field sports shop in Dulverton to purchase some spinners – a lure used to catch salmon and trout. He asked the owner if there were many salmon in the River Exe, but was advised the season had ended.

Neilson was identified from photographs taken of him at Bridgetown weir. He was later arrested by police and interviewed by Environment Agency bailiffs after a warrant was issued and his home searched.

Neilson admitted he was the person in the photographs and to fishing for trout during the close season, but denied fishing for salmon. He claimed he used the gaff to retrieve fishing tackle he had lost earlier in the day and used the net to help fish over the weir. Neilson denied telling the angler he’d met at Bridgetown weir he was trying to catch a ‘fish for the freezer.’

‘The Exe is one of the region’s finest salmon rivers, but like many rivers, salmon numbers are in decline and special conservation measures have had to be put in place in an attempt to safeguard stocks. Every illegally taken salmon represents the potential loss of thousands of young fish to the river,’ said Nick Maye for the Environment Agency.

‘The defendant showed a total disregard for the law and attempted to take salmon when they were full of eggs and just about to spawn. This prosecution was only possible through the close working relationship that exists between the Environment Agency, Avon and Somerset Police wildlife crime officers and the wider angling community,’ said Nick Maye.

Appearing before Taunton magistrates, Neilson, aged 23, of Marshfield Road, Minehead, Somerset was fined £200 and ordered to pay £100 costs after pleading guilty to two offences under the Salmon and Freshwater Fisheries Act 1975 of having in his possession and using an illegal instrument for the purpose of taking a salmon or trout on the River Exe at Bridgetown weir and attempting to take salmon or trout in their passage through a fish pass. He was also fined £100 for fishing for brown trout using a rod and line during the annual closed season contrary to the Water Resources Act 1991.
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