THE Environment Agency is planning a May Day blitz on East Lancashire anglers who do not have rod licences.

From May 2 to May 4, agency staff will be out checking licences throughout the country, focusing on urban areas where evasion is above average.

The weekend crackdown will be followed by a week of licence checking between June 16 and 22, with usual enforcement activity at other times.

Dr Mark Diamond, the agency's North West regional fisheries manager, who is co-ordinating the national blitz, said: "Licence sales have increased by almost 40 per cent over the last few years and we have seen evasion rates dropping.

"However we believe that there is still a significant proportion of anglers who are not buying a licence.

"Licence checking is a key element in our strategy to tackle rod licence evasion and we will be keeping the pressure up this year starting over the May bank holiday." Following action in May and June last year, the number of anglers in the North West region unable to produce a licence fell to 5.7 per cent, from 21 per cent in 1996.

Nationally, on one day alone, 10,000 licences were checked on 1,000 waters resulting in 1,000 anglers being reported for failing to produce a licence.

About half of these had left their licences at home and subsequently produced them, but most of the remaining unlicensed anglers were prosecuted.

Dr Diamond said: "We have built up good information on where and when we can expect unlicensed anglers to fish using computerised data from Post Office sales and we will be targeting our enforcement strategy accordingly.

"Licence income is vital to fund the important work the agency does to protect and improve fisheries.

"It is only right and fair that the agency should clamp down on those who are cheating their fellow anglers by not buying a licence."

Any angler over the age of 12 fishing for salmon, sea trout or freshwater fish in England and Wales faces a fine of up to £2,500 if caught without a rod licence.

Licences are available at any Post Office.

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