WIGAN and Leigh fisheries are on red alert as thieves threaten to steal fishing clubs’ finest specimens to put on Christmas dinner tables.
Fisheries stocking carp are thought to be particularly vulnerable, as carp is a Christmas delicacy in many countries and prize fish can fetch up to £5,000 each.
The local angling community has been particularly nervous about thefts since commercial gill nets, used for deep sea trawling, were found in Pennington Flash earlier this year, suggesting the possibility of organised criminal activity.
There have also been numerous reports across the borough of incidents of fish stealing, with thieves using illegal long lines and baited hooks to bring in their hauls.
Leading anglers are warning the public to be on their guard, and to report any suspicious behaviour to the authorities immediately.
Former Angling Times journalist and Angling Trust North West Regional Forum member John Weedon said: “If half of what I have seen and heard over the past three weeks is correct, we have a major crisis on our hands.
“All water-holding clubs in the area and the agency’s fisheries and environmental crime unit staff have been fully briefed with all the intelligence that has come in. But we need tip-offs about which waters they are raiding so action can be taken.
“I would ask anglers to check waters, look for tethered lines, which may well be hidden, and signs of bankside disturbance, and get descriptions and car registration numbers.
“People should above all keep their temper, and under no circumstances should they attempt to confront thieves directly.
“If they have spotted anything they should immediately ring the Environment Agency.”
Katy Barton, from the Environment Agency, said: “We are currently working with angling clubs and fishing tackle shops to try and gather intelligence on instances of illegal poaching and fishing, and we have carried out a lot of surveillance recently.
“We have found some issues with illegal fishing, for example people fishing without permits, but have had no incidents of illegal poaching recently.
“We would ask anyone who sees any suspected illegal activity to ring us with as much information as they can, so we can get a full picture in order to go down and investigate.”
Anyone with information about suspected illegal fishing should ring the Environment Agency’s 24-hour hotline on 0800 80 70 60.