Angling Trust critical of River Mole fine that values life of wild fish at just 13p

The Angling Trust has criticised the “pathetic” fine handed down to a Devon company responsible for polluting the River Mole and causing the deaths of an estimated 15,600 fish.

The company was fined £2,000 and one of its workers was fined £667 at Exeter Magistrates Court after a 4.7 kilometre stretch of the river was polluted with digestate in July 2019.

Stuart Singleton-White, Angling Trust Head of Campaigns, said:

“Quite frankly, the punishment for those responsible for causing this catastrophic pollution is pathetic. It seems the court thinks that the life of a wild fish is only worth around 13p.

“What makes it doubly frustrating is that it is difficult to get the Environment Agency to prosecute in the first place. The number of prosecutions they take has fallen dramatically in the past few years, but the number of pollution incidents has not. For such a paltry fine to be given to the culprits simply will not act as a deterrent to other polluters.

“Our Anglers Against Pollution campaign seeks to give anglers a voice in the fight for a better environment and cleaner waters. We are calling on the Government to provide funding to ensure the Environment Agency, Natural Resource Wales and Natural England can carry out fully their statutory duties in relation to the monitoring and enforcement of existing regulations designed to protect and improve our rivers, lakes and coastal waters.”

Anglers can find out how they can support the campaign by visiting the Anglers Against Pollution website.

An Environment Agency officer described the incident as the worst fish kill seen in 30 years. Whole populations of salmonids, from mature adults to fry, are thought to have been wiped out by what appeared to have been a careless and completely avoidable pollution of the river.

Fish Legal has a number of riparian and angling club members on the River Mole and is considering taking legal action against those responsible for the pollution.

Penelope Gane, Head of Practice at Fish Legal said:

“It’s good to see that the Environment Agency prosecuted in this case. They have faced a barrage of criticism in the media recently for not taking a tough stance on polluters so when they do use their powers to punish offenders and to deter others that should be acknowledged.

“The fine on the other hand is paltry. Anaerobic digestate is extremely toxic to aquatic life and it could take years for fish populations to fully recover from this one-off event. Whilst the court may have stuck to the letter of the Sentencing Guidelines in deciding on the level of the fine to impose in this case, does a total of £2,667 really send out the right message about the value of our rivers?”

Alex Gibson, who owns fishing rights to about a mile of the River Taw into which the River Mole flows, said:

“It would be hard to imagine a worse pollution incident. It comes after the River Taw Fisheries & Conservation Association has both spent time and money improving access over Head Weir – the gateway to the Mole for migratory fish – and gravel washing on the Mole to increase spawning capability there. It is not just anglers fishing below the polluted stretch, but all those who enjoy the river and its ecology that have felt the devastating effect of this pollution incident and unfortunately will continue to do so into the future.”

For further details of the River Mole prosecution and sentencing outcome click here.

  • Picture credit: Martin Bodman, Wiki Commons

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