A rogue angler who catches a specimen, puts it in a tank and takes it to a water where he knows he’ll get a few hundred pounds for it from an unscrupulous stockist who isn’t too choosy about the origin of his fish.
Tragically, stealing carp is becoming much more calculated and, in some cases, sinister. More and more frequently angling journals report incidents of gangs – armed with nets and four-wheel drive trucks -raiding fisheries, rivers and canals.
With the trend for catching specimen carp now almost a specialist sport in itself, the market for such fish is thriving. As a result carp theft for angling purposes has risen dramatically in the last few years and in the north of England it is reaching epidemic proportions.
In order to steal large numbers of carp, poaching gangs have been using some very conspicuous equipment. If you see a group of unfamiliar people using nets, boats or electro-rods they may not necessarily be carrying out clearance work. Alert the police if they look suspicious and make a note of their vehicle numbers.
‘Big Daddy’, captured in 1987 weighing 26lb 14oz (12.2kg). This huge mirror was over 30lb (13.6kg) when poachers tried – and failed – to steal him in 1991. Koi consultant Bernice Brewster notes: “Koi thefts from garden ponds peaked in the mid 1980s. In one month alone, koi valued at £30,000 were removed from ponds in south-east England.
“Koi dealers were also targeted by night time raiders. One woke to discover that a whole storehouse wall had been removed, along with his carp. Another found that part of the roof above the main pond was missing and the most valuable fish taken without triggering the alarm system.
“In response, the British Koi Keeper’s Society has withdrawn its membership list to keep hobbyists anonymous and many owners now keep photo-records of their fish.” Stock ponds can be an easy target for the carp thieves, but now – often at great expense – many owners are fighting back by erecting security fences, installing alarm systems and patrolling their grounds.
The cruellest catch
Ken Town ley recalls the effects of a theft from his local West Country still water.
“In June 1991 two men – bogus local council workers as bold as brass with bright yellow overalls – bluffed passers-by when they claimed they were removing the carp from Salamander Lake for safe keeping while it was cleared of silt.
“They swept a net through the shallow water and, in the space of about 20 minutes, took nine of the lake’s eleven carp that weighed over 20lb. They also made off with a number of fish of lower weights. Although the thieves’ main target – a 30lb mirror called ‘Big Daddy’ – managed to elude them, they still got away with well over £5000 worth of carp. The other fish to escape the netters was a leather nicknamed The pet’. It is still in the lake… but for how long? I had fished here since 1978 and had nicknamed many of them myself.”Have you seen ‘Humpy’ (21lb 12oz/9.86kg), one of nine specimen carp stolen from Salamander Lake?The publicity attracted by the theft of these beautiful fish has encouraged koi owners to be more security conscious – koi thefts have declined but now the rustlers are targeting specimen carp.
Until recently carp theft was more commonly associated with ornamental species, like koi carp. The koi’s unique colouring made it a desirable addition to any garden pond, but its popularity and high value meant it wasn’t long before it became the target for thieves.
In Britain the specimen carp scene is now big business with large carp (30lb/13.6kgor more) capable of commanding high prices. The most common form of carp theft is the
Working with almost military precision and using a variety of methods – from draining entire waters to electro-fishing -these gangs can take whole stocks of carp in just a few hours.
It is not just the financial cost of replacing these fish that can devastate the victims of large-scale theft. Literally years of painstaking work goes into the development of many fisheries, along with huge personal and financial sacrifice.
Owners of many waters, hand in hand with the NRA and the local police, are now taking steps to deter the thieves.
Along with strengthening fencing, patrolling waters and installing intruder detection devices, many clubs are now creating fish theft information networks.
Following a wave of thefts from waters around Merseyside – including fish being taken via a large trap from the St. Helens Canal – several clubs have joined forces to form a fishwatch scheme. By watching for poachers, gathering evidence and listening for information about thefts, the clubs can go some way to combating the villains.
Perhaps the only real way of stopping carp rustling is to curb the demand for stolen fish — and that depends a lot on the discretion of the country’s fish stockists.
A lorry load of cheap “bankrupt stock’ carp turning up at the gates of a fishery is a great temptation to the owner. But, by buying fish without genuine proof of the stock’s source and condition, the owner is liable to prosecution by the NRA. He is putting in jeopardy the health of his existing stocks by allowing unchecked fish into the water and, if the carp have been obtained illegally, then the owner is also open to the serious charge of handling stolen property.
Unfortunately it is often the fishery owner’s willingness to take such high risks that is fuelling the demand for stolen carp -not considering that he is increasing the likelihood that he himself may soon receive a call from the thieves.