The UNCL/CATAC and Carp trafficking.
The serious, and hugely worrying issue of carp trafficking is something that often gets very little mainstream media attention as it is a delicate area and one the industry appears it would often rather ignore. Notwithstanding that, drawing attention to the thousands of carp that are illegally stolen from public lakes and rivers throughout France, and further afield is something we here at Subsurface feel anglers in the UK should be made very aware of.
Not only are French anglers having their rivers and public venues bled dry to stock often horrendously over-stocked English run commercial and private venues, which in itself is a shameful state of affairs, but those fish that have to suffer the horrific conditions to be illegally transported back to the UK are suffering huge trauma, damage and often death through being squashed into small spaces to allow transportation of large numbers of fish and greater pay-offs. Added to that, and especially in the age of regular flooding it now appears we live in, these illegal imports are often carriers for the likes of SVC and other potentially catastrophic diseases and pose a massive risk to our homegrown stocks and heritage.
The UNCL is a French organisation that aims to promote the interests of ordinary carp anglers, clubs and associations and to protect the aquatic environments of the public waters, as well as working in a consultative capacity with the federations that run French public fishing. The following introduction to the work CATAC does in France has been written by the English speaking liaison for the UNCL and their undercover anti-trafficking section, the CATAC. It makes for very interesting reading, and is something we should all be aware of and doing everything we can towards stopping, through raising awareness, or making better choices about where we angle. Behind the scenes there are people working tirelessly to bring these injustices and exploitations down, a little exposure is the very least we can offer and we hope to continue to bring light to their work on these issues in the future.
The CATAC is the anti-fish trafficking branch of the National Independent Carp Anglers Union (UNCL) in France. Formed after the admissions of Kevin Nash (Montlucon Carp Show 2012) of having been responsible for a team who transferred carp from French public waters to his (then) private lake at Cavagnac, Aveyron. The heightened awareness of the problem following these public revelations, led to a consensus amongst French carp anglers that more should be done about the devastating exodus of large carp from their public waters.
The CATAC was formed from a small (mostly anonymous) group of carp anglers already actively involved in protecting and promoting public water fishing, through their work in the local and regional fishing federations. With the help of hundreds of ordinary carp anglers on the banks, in a little less than 2 years, the CATAC have amassed evidence of more than 140 cases of illegal fish movements in France, many of which being linked to English run private lakes and some to illegal importations of specimen carp into the UK.
In June 2013, a meeting was held between CEFAS and CATAC on the banks of the river Lot and a working relationship forged, sharing information and tactics to combat fish trafficking. A further meeting was held at the National Fishing Federation offices in Paris in February 2014, along with representatives of the French law and order, to enhance our collective power to investigate and bring to court those responsible for this trade both within France and internationally.
The following is an interview between Jon Holland, senior Fish Health Inspector for CEFAS, and the CATAC published on their blog.
To start with could you explain to our French readership, what CEFAS is and its role in the UK?
CEFAS is the competent authority in England & Wales for the prevention of the spread of notifiable diseases in fish in the wild and in aquaculture. Notifiable diseases are very serious, cause large scale mortality and are generally untreatable. We monitor the health of fish in all of our rivers, lakes and fish farms. This includes all carp fisheries.
Many French anglers remember the case of carp being discovered in a lorry at Dover in 2010. Could you explain what happened, the numbers of carp involved and the damage they could have caused?
In February 2010 CEFAS Inspectors were called to Dover docks to intercept a lorry that had been pulled over by the UK Border Agency. We had some very patchy intelligence to suggest that there may be a shipment of large carp due to be imported illegally from France, but had very little detail. A lorry was stopped because the Officer had noted that it had been out to France for less than 24 hours and had cited paper milling machinery as its cargo in both directions which was very unusual.
Upon inspection 4 tanks were found hidden behind the machinery in the trailer unit. Each tank had its own oxygen supply and was wrapped in layers of black polythene. The tanks of around 1m square contained up to 40 fish. 120 fish were found in total. The smallest was 14.5kg, the largest was 27.5kg. Most of them were around 16-17kg.
The fish were humanely euthanized and tested for disease. In this case the fish had no signs of any notifiable disease (specifically Spring Viraemia of Carp). However many shipments that we have stopped in the past have been carrying the virus.
The United Kingdom is declared free from SVC and as such has very strict controls over any live fish that are imported into the country. Any fish that are susceptible to SVC must come from a country that is tested free from the virus and they must be accompanied by a health certificate signed by an officer from the competent authority in the country of origin.
In France SVC is not notifiable (the same as in most countries in continental Europe). The disease is too widespread to try and eradicate and because it’s been in the waters for generations, most French carp will carry a certain level of immunity to the virus. Wild fish stocks in the UK are completely naive to the virus and any infection brought in from Europe would spread very quickly and decimate the populations of wild fish (SVC also kills Pike, Crucian Carp, Tench, Rudd and Grass Carp). The knock on effect of a loss of our SVC free status would be the collapse of our own carp farming industry.
We would like to thank you for having accepted our invitation to meet with us and the FNPF and present the problems that this scourge that is carp trafficking can cause. What do you think about and take away from this the meeting?
The meeting in Paris was an excellent opportunity for all of the interested parties to come together and present the problems from our own perspective. I don’t think many anglers in France realize how much a 25kg carp is worth on the black market in the UK. Because of this high value, the practice of smuggling or trafficking is attracting highly organized criminal gangs who have dealings in drugs, money laundering and weapons. These are nasty intimidating people, often with a serious criminal background.
CEFAS have historically had a hard time getting any of the French authorities to listen to the problem from our point of view, so the meeting in Paris was our golden opportunity to get our point across. Thanks to the links we already have with UNCL/CATAC, we were able to secure a seat at the table.
I hope that as an outcome of the meeting, the general feeling will be that we can all work together to be much more effective in stopping the trafficking.
With regard to the carp that manage to make it into Britain, what sort of prices do the fetch?
A 20 kg can make £8 to £12k, a 25kg carp can make up to £15-20k in the UK. For 30kg+ its name your price.
What would you say to support the work of the UNCL and CATAC?
The UNCL/CATAC are undertaking a vital role in France – Obviously from my point of view, there is the potential to work together to make sure that big French carp stay in France for everyone to enjoy. But of, course as in any country, anglers need a collective voice. In the UK we have the Angling Trust. If UNCL can be the voice for French carp anglers, then that is very good news. History has shown us in the UK that a few anglers’ voices trying to get things changed at a ministerial level has absolutely no effect whatsoever. But if you can have a single professionally run body that represents the voices of tens of thousands of fishermen, then you can really get things changed for the better.
What health risks are posed by the movement of carp into the UK?
As I have already mentioned, SVC is widespread in France and the rest of continental Europe. The virus poses little threat apart from the occasional outbreak. In the UK the virus was eradicated fully in 2010 and there have been no outbreaks since. Outbreaks in aquaculture result in complete eradication of the infected sites. In the wild, eradication is the preferred option, but obviously not always possible due to the size of the water in question. The Controls that UK have against importation of Carp from areas with SVC protect not only our wild stocks but also our aquaculture industry. Without the controls, people would be free to import carp from anywhere without any health certificates. This would be catastrophic and would destroy the UK aquaculture industry overnight.
Who finances your investigations and the FHI in general, the state?
The Fish Health Inspectorate are funded entirely by the UK Government
What are your objectives with regard to the fish trafficking?
Our objective is simple. To stop the trafficking. In an ideal world, these fish wouldn’t even reach UK shores. The fines in France for Trafficking are far, far higher than in the UK and would act as a much bigger deterrent to would be smugglers. If you consider the load mentioned earlier from 2010 stopped at Dover. Those responsible were fine £5000 – barely the value of one fish. If that load had been stopped in France and successfully prosecuted under your trafficking law – that would have been about €3.2 million!
I am obviously keen to work with any French organization to make sure that big French Carp remain in French waters. The worst outcome for all concerned is that the fish end up in the UK where they will have to be killed. If they are stopped before then (for instance at Calais or Coquelles), we stand a chance of being able to return them to where they came from, and we will be able to prosecute under UK law (intent to commit an offence) and your trafficking law. When the punishment fits the crime, then we may stand a chance of stopping the trade.
The next AGM of the UNCL, will be held in late 2014. Several Federations have been invited along with other bodies. We would very much like to invite you to this meeting through this interview. Would you be willing to present your work to the assembly?
CEFAS and the UNCL (CATAC) have created a working partnership, others are in discussion. Do you think that this sort of cooperation could become Europe wide?
That has to be our ultimate goal. Fish aren’t just being stolen from France. It’s happening in Germany, Croatia, Italy, Belgium, and Romania to name but a few. A Europe wide intelligence network for Fishery Crime would be fantastic but we also have to be realistic. It isn’t high up many governments list of priorities and it’s a hard struggle to get anyone to listen. I have been coming to France for 14 years to try and get an audience with anyone in any of the French Authorities that are concerned with fishing and the environment. I am very grateful to UNCL/CATAC for inviting us to the meeting on the 5th February and helping to get our side of the story across. If we can do this across the rest of Europe then that’s even better!
The UNCL/CATAC press release follows below
To the Presidents of Departmental Fishing Federations
Consider this letter like our last bottle thrown into the sea.
Since 2009, we have grouped together to fight with limited resources
against the pillage of our rivers and lakes which you are to a certain
degree the managers, but also their protectors. In order to preserve our
fish stocks, we have tried to heighten awareness of this problem, so
that its is better known.
The pillage, the theft of live fish, torn from public waters, is not a
fact to be taken lightly. Today the importance of this traffic depasses
us, just as it does you. Why is it that you are unable to get to grips
with the true proportions of this problem? The reply is short, you don’t
have the human or material resources available to you in order to
properly asses the reality of the trafficking. Likewise you lack the
means to fight at the level that is needed to combat this phenomena.
This is not any sort of judgement on our part, even less a criticism! We
simply consider and understand that amongst the files that arrive on
your desks, those that pertain to this traffic may be the most difficult
to deal with.
By using the social networks to advantage, we have been able to
investigate and collect a huge amount of information. Several dozen
people have been working to collect together proof and witness
statements from hundreds of other people that make up our network across
What other choice were left to us, other than exposing the fish
trafficking problem through the media? The programme “Capital”
transmitted on the channel M6 last year, contributed to putting some
light on certain activities at privately run lakes. Notably their
willingness to buy carp on the black market, that were taken from public
waters and have them collected by professional fish farmers. The
television channel hold other material filmed with hidden cameras and we
have been invited to participate in further television programmes. The
majority of the angling press have approached us and recently and we
have published several press releases and articles, with proof to back
up our claims. However we don’t intend to make a career of it!
Very clearly, all our regions are affected to differing degrees (125
cases books at the Catac), some cases are very complete, others simply
the results of converging sources of information and our subsequent
inquiries. We have worked for months on this, spending our nights and
family time, using our own finances , we have been harassed and taken
risks to get at information, but we can not go any further than this as
an association. The people we find ourselves up against are fish
traffickers, but their financial incentives are akin to those of arms
and drug traffickers!
Some traffickers operate with body guards protecting there backs on the
banks, others surround themselves with numerous hired men in order to
organise their traffic, notably in the direction of commercial private
carp lakes in France and in the UK. The price of a 20 kilo carp is in
the region of 5000 € (in France, in the UK even more). On waters with a
high potential, the angler-traffickers operate full time, fishing often
24 hours a day, throughout the year. The result is that there are often
tens or hundreds of thousands of euros in play and that, the people
involved in the traffic defend with violence. We are not able to go
beyond what we have accomplished so far, as you will surely understand.
These raids on our fish stocks have led to many public waters being left
devoid of their largest specimens and one of the direct consequences of
this, that you have all already witnessed in your respective
departments, is the dwindling number of anglers. At the same time we
have compiled a list (most likely incomplete) of over 400 commercially
run private lakes, amongst which, most are filled to the brims with
large specimen carp, often at ridiculous population densities, which are
booked up most of the year at on average 35€ the 24 hours. The
businesses that run these lakes are very often declared as they see fit,
when they are even registered as businesses at all! Sometimes they also
sell alcohol and many other things, bait, food etc, without being
subject to any form of taxation. We have to wonder if there is any real
legislation that controls these activities? Is this the future of
fishing in France? Voilà, is this what will little by little replace
public waters, private lakes that thrive by emptying public waters of
their specimen fish? Is this the sort of fishing you would like to leave
behind for your children?
What can we do? We have contacted all the possible organisations, forces
of order and federations that touch on, from near or from far our
problem, without results, and often without any acknowledgement of any
interest in the traffic at all. Out of all our attempts at contacting
the relevant bodies only 3 organisations have come forward and acted:
The ONCFS (Office National de la Chasse et la Faune Sauvage) in some
departments have made a contribution in staking out operations and
taking very seriously all information brought to their attention. At the
moment we write this letter, international investigations are under way
which we hope to be conclusive; CEFAS (UK) who ask from their side the
help of the French authorities, to better combat the illegal
introduction of fish into their country; The departmental fishing
federations have supported us in numbers and announce their willingness
to take up the fight against the traffic.
The truth is that none of the other organisations will take up their
responsibilities. Clearly the ONEMA doesn’t have sufficient finances and
the FNPF represented by Mr Roustan does not respond to our calls for
help! Many fishing tackle manufacturers, their owners and
representatives are directly involved in this trafficking!
THIS HAS TO CHANGE!
What we area asking for and the reason for this open letter, is that a
commission Anti-Traffic is formed at the heart of the FNPF, to co
ordinate with whatever other official agencies are deemed necessary.
You, together, have the means and power to make our governing body
understand the utility and urgency for a coordinating service and to
work hand in hand against the traffic. Let each take his
responsibilities, those for which you were elected! Protect our fish and
the future of angling on our free public waters.
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