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Poachers caught out after posting their illegal catch on social media

Jess Hardiman

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| Last updated 

Poachers caught out after posting their illegal catch on social media

A pair of fish poachers were caught hook, line and sinker after bragging about their illegal catches in Facebook photos. 

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Connor Bell, 30, and Michael Hutchinson, 39, proudly posed with the fish they’d caught illegally while fishing in the River Wear, before sharing the snaps online for all to see. 

A court heard how the pair used gill nets to catch salmon and sea trout over a two-year period, even though they did not have a licence. 

They narrowly avoided jail time after admitting poaching offences at South Tyneside Magistrates’ Court on Tuesday 16 August. 

Bell was sentenced to five months in prison and Hutchinson for two months, with both receiving terms suspended for 18 months. 

Credit: SWNS
Credit: SWNS

Both were also ordered to complete 200 hours in unpaid work, as well as paying £1,000 ($1,206) costs and a £128 ($154) victim surcharge. 

Sentencing, District Judge Gary Garland said: “You don’t know how lucky you are to avoid going on a trip to Durham [Prison] this morning. 

"I view and the law views the things you were up to as extremely serious. These weren’t boyish pranks. 

"You were out there putting a large net across a confined space of river where it was highly likely you were going to catch fish of one sort or another. 

The pair received suspended sentences and were ordered to complete 200 hours in unpaid work. Credit: SWNS
The pair received suspended sentences and were ordered to complete 200 hours in unpaid work. Credit: SWNS

"And you did. If you hadn’t gone around bragging on Facebook about what fish you were catching, you wouldn’t have been in as much trouble as you are.” 

The pair, both of Sunderland, were rumbled by their mobile phones and social media accounts, which revealed that they had gone on illegal fishing weekends for the past two summers. 

They could be seen smiling in photos with hauls of up to 14 fish at a time, with some images showing them walking down to their water and casting their nets across the river. 

One Facebook post also seeing Hutchinson encourage a relative to become ‘a fine young poacher’. 

The Environment Agency said gill nets are rarely licensed in rivers due to the potential of such equipment catching and killing fish indiscriminately. 

They could be seen in photos showing off hauls of up to 14 fish at a time. Credit: SWNS
They could be seen in photos showing off hauls of up to 14 fish at a time. Credit: SWNS

The nets can also cause injury or kill sea birds and mammals. 

After the case, David Shears, senior fisheries enforcement officer for the Environment Agency in the North East, said: “With salmon stocks reaching crisis in many of England’s rivers, this level of illegal activity could have a serious impact on the sustainability of future stocks in the River Wear. 

"That’s why we take reports of suspected poaching seriously and work closely with the police to take action where appropriate. 

“We’re committed to tackling illegal fishing of all kinds whether online or off and as this case clearly demonstrates, we will take action, especially where potentially damaging methods are used.” 

The Environment Agency revealed that 88 percent of salmon rivers in England are now classed as being ‘at risk’, reminding people it remains illegal to use nets to catch salmon in the North East, and that anyone caught doing so faces unlimited fines and possible jail sentences. 

Gill nets are rarely licensed in rivers due to the harm they can cause. Credit: SWNS
Gill nets are rarely licensed in rivers due to the harm they can cause. Credit: SWNS

PC Peter Baker, wildlife officer at Northumbria Police, added: “We are really pleased to have been able to deliver effective justice and show the impact of illegal fishing and poaching. 

"We are privileged to see a varied amount of marine wildlife around our area, and we should all play a part in protecting and supporting the environment. 

"As a force, we take all reports of this nature seriously and are committed to taking appropriate and robust action against the minority found to have been involved in such offences in the region’s waterways. 

“Through our co-ordinated efforts with partners, we will continue to educate the public to prevent further offences from taking place.” 

Featured Image Credit: SWNS

Topics: UK News, Fishing, Animals

Jess Hardiman
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