Page last updated at 21:34 GMT, Monday, 1 March 2010

Poacher nets night curfew for stealing River Axe trout

Sea trout
Eight adult sea trout had been thrown over a gate

A Dorset man who illegally poached sea trout from the River Axe in east Devon has been fined and given a three month night-time curfew.

Vincent O'Brien, of St Andrew's House, Uplyme Road, Lyme Regis, pleaded guilty at an earlier hearing.

O'Brien was caught by Environment Agency officers on an evening fishery patrol last May.

The agency told Exeter Magistrates' Court O'Brien's actions seriously threatened the survival of the species.

The court head O'Brien and an accomplice were spotted using an inflatable rubber dinghy to set monofilament gill nets across the Lower Axe.

Spawning loss

During the course of the evening both men returned to the net on three occasions to remove and kill fish before storing them in bags nearby.

When fishery patrol officers confronted O'Brien and his accomplice as they returned to their car there was a short struggle before O'Brien was arrested.

Officers found eight adult sea trout in several bags thrown over a gate. The fish weighed between 6lb and 10lb each and were in prime condition.

Gill nets, an inflatable dinghy and two table mats that had been used as paddles were also recovered.

The Environment Agency said to lose so many prime fish in a single evening was a "huge loss" to the river.

Dinghy forfeited

"These were mature fish that would have helped boost the sea trout population on the Axe had they been left to breed," agency spokesman Andy Locke said.

The court heard that more than half of the fish caught by O'Brien were females and their capture would have resulted in the loss of an estimated 250,000 eggs during their spawning lifetime.

O'Brien pleaded guilty to three offences under the Salmon and Freshwater Fisheries Act 1975 and Police Act 1996, including taking sea trout by means of an illegal instrument, using an unauthorised fixed engine (a net) and wilfully obstructing an Environment Agency bailiff.

Magistrates imposed a three-month curfew on O'Brien between the hours of 2100 and 0600, fined him £250 costs and gave him a 12-month community order of 120 hours unpaid work.

He was also ordered to forfeit his illegal nets and inflatable dinghy worth about £500 in total.

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