If we do come across poachers, then for your own safety, you will have to take a firm back seat, stay right back and leave us to it,” says one of my guides for the evening, Environment Agency officer Paul Newman.
Since Paul, 44, and his colleague Cormac Meenehan, 35, are wearing body armour, carrying batons, and have the power to arrest, this arrangement seems a sensible one.
Evidently, patrolling Hampshire’s rivers is a serious business. It is also big business.
A recent report from The Test and Itchen Association put the value to the local economy of returning salmon stock at somewhere around £3.7m.
In 2011 there were estimated to be 1,677 salmon in the Itchen and the Test, giving each fish a value to the economy of more than £2,000.
“Wild salmon and sea trout will fetch about £10 a lb on the black market,” Paul explains quietly as we work our way along a section of the River Wallington.
The fish may fetch an attractive price, but penalties can be severe and poaching salmon or sea trout can carry a fine of up to £50,000.
The agency says that some rivers in Hampshire are considered to have “marginal and unsustainable salmon and sea trout populations”, and illegal fishing threatens their long-term survival. More....