FOOD poverty is being blamed for a rise in the number of people illegally poaching fish.

Patrols have been stepped up in response to concerns from anglers and seven offenders were caught in one week.

Fishing enthusiasts believe ‘increasing poverty due to the economy’ may be behind the rise.

Graham Parkes, chairman of the Blackburn and Hyndburn Angling Association, said he had confronted a number of people attempting to steal species such as carp, bream, and trout from waters managed by his group.

He said the problem was particularly bad at waters such as Super Street in Clayton-le-Moors, Calder River, near Whalley Abbey and Dunkirk Ponds, off Whalley Road.

Mr Parkes, 64, said he appreciated that times were tough but said poachers disregarded the money and hard work that members of the association put into managing the fishing zones.

He said: “I know that people are hard up and want to fish so they have something to eat but there are also hardened poachers who seem to be poaching not for this reason too who aren’t helping the problem.

“We have to pay to use these waters and put a lot of time into maintaining them so if people want to fish we want them to respect our work and pay fees through the association because otherwise it isn’t fair and could lead to reduced stocks if people aren’t registering what they catch.”

The association is working closely with the Environment Agency. Poaching is a serious criminal offence which carries a maximum fine of £50,000, whilst fishing without a licence is £2,500.

Steve Powell, fisheries specialist for the Environment Agency in the north west said: “We’ve seen an increase in the number of calls we’ve received about poaching in the Blackburn and Hyndburn area in recent years.

“As a result, we’ve been working in partnership with the local community, Lancashire Police and angling organisations to tackle this issue.

“We’ve held workshops to help local anglers understand the law around poaching and how they can help manage poaching and illegal fishing in this area.

“Healthy rivers depend on balanced populations of fish but poaching threatens the quality of our environment and the numbers of fish in our rivers.”

Anyone who spots poaching should contact the Environment Agency’s 24-hour incident hotline on 0800 807060.