Protecting fish and fisheries from poachers and fish thieves and increasing rod licence compliance has to be of great importance to all anglers. The aquatic environment and the sport fishing industry deserve to be protected – and those who cheat honest anglers by not contributing to funding improvements must be brought to book. The Angling Trust has listened carefully to the concerns of anglers, angling clubs, fishery owners and managers, and in partnership with the Environment Agency has devised a very clear vision and strategy to tackle the issues. 

Fisheries Enforcement Support Service

The ‘FESS’ is a partnership between the Angling Trust and Environment Agency and funded by English freshwater fishing licence income. The FESS went ‘live’ on 1st November 2015, following the Angling Trust being awarded the National Angling Strategic Services contract by the Environment Agency.

FESS managers are all retired police officers of immense experience – and, as anglers themselves, perfectly understand the issues faced and required response.



If you haven’t already done so, buy your licence here

The FESS builds on the groundwork and vision firmly laid between 2012-2015 and exists to support the Environment Agency, the statutory lead on fisheries enforcement, through:

  • Coordinating a multi-agency approach to fisheries crime and compliance, encouraging a partnership approach. 
  • Raising awareness throughout the police service, Crown Prosecution Service and Magistrates’ Association. 
  • Helping advise the police and Agency and helping put things right should the service fall short. 
  • Increasing incoming intelligence and sharing of that information. 
  • Upskilling the angling community through Fisheries Enforcement Workshops and the provision of expert advice to angling clubs and fisheries. 
  • Delivering the Voluntary Bailiff Service throughout England, empowering anglers to contribute to fisheries enforcement. 
  • Delivering the Building Bridges Project, aimed at the education and integration of migrant anglers. 

Please do not hesitate to contact your Regional Enforcement Manager for professional enforcement advice. Contact details can be found here.

Voluntary Bailiff Service

The Voluntary Bailiff Service is an increasingly important partnership between the Angling Trust and Environment Agency, empowering anglers to support the police and Agency in fighting back against fisheries crime and protecting fish and fisheries. The VBS initiative continues to be enormously successful, driving forward positive change.

Effective enforcement today is ‘intelligence-led’, relying upon incoming calls and information. This country has a long and proud history of volunteering, the police, for example, have received essential support from the Special Constabulary for many years and now have 500,000 Police Support Volunteers nationally.

Indeed, in Eastern Europe, government fisheries officers are supported by a huge army of volunteers – 5,000 in Poland alone – and in Holland, Royal Sportfisserij Nederland effectively manages and administers fisheries enforcement volunteers.

The Voluntary Bailiff Service, therefore, is a unique opportunity for freshwater anglers in England to positively contribute towards supporting the Environment Agency and police in protecting fish and fisheries.

Following a hugely successful pilot project in South East England between 2012 and 2015, the VBS revolves entirely around training Volunteer Bailiffs to report incidents and information to the appropriate agency and to a high evidential standard, thereby increasing the chances of successful prosecutions.

The VBS is inclusive, embracing volunteers from all age groups, sexes and ethnicities and we particularly welcome applications from the BAME community. The Angling Trust is also a member of the National Council for Voluntary Organisations.




A Voluntary Bailiff examines a recovered hoop net with an Environment Agency Fisheries Enforcement Officer

Due to health and safety considerations, the volunteers are not expected to approach anglers on the bank – but report what they see and hear. It emphasises how vitally important reporting is and calls should be made to the 24-hour Environment Agency incident hotline 0800 80 70 60.

The VBS is currently administered by six regions throughout England, each run by an Angling Trust Regional Enforcement Manager, who works very closely with the Environment Agency and police. Each region is sub-divided into areas, each with an Environment Agency Fisheries Enforcement Officer acting as a Single Point of Contact, liaising with a volunteer serving as an Area Co-ordinator.

Training is provided by Angling Trust staff, who are both retired police officers and anglers; the Environment Agency; UK National Wildlife Crime Unit or local police, and the Fish Health Inspectorate.

Volunteers receive a pocketbook, identity card and Angling Trust clothing. Most importantly, access is provided to the secure VBS website for reporting purposes and information sharing. All volunteers must be over 18 years of age.

Annually, the VBS participates in Operation CLAMPDOWN with the Environment Agency and police, cracking down on illegal fishing during the coarse close season. This is a perfect opportunity to promote and increase partnership working, intelligence gathering and sharing – and for Volunteer Bailiffs to work directly with the professionals on joint patrols. During the 2019 close season, Operation CLAMPDOWN ran for the seventh consecutive year. Volunteer Bailiffs throughout England demonstrated their massive commitment to protecting fish and fisheries and cracking down on licence cheats by logging 3,650 patrols and reporting 131 incidents to the Environment Agency and police during ‘OCD7’.

All anglers can help this process, in fact – at any time of year – by reporting information and offences in progress to the Environment Agency on 0800 80 70 60, or the police on 101/999 as appropriate.

We are now receiving applications for 2021 VBS recruitment. To express an interest, please contact the Angling Trust’s National Volunteers Manager, indicating where in England you are based:


What our volunteers say

“The Voluntary Bailiff Service has taken a step into the future and utilised the biggest asset that the angling world has, the anglers themselves.” 

“I honestly believe the VBS is a fantastic step for fishery enforcement and protection. The concept is extremely simple, however the information that can be received from it could be crucial in tackling many issues that the angling world faces.”  – Becky, East of England

“Becoming a Voluntary Bailiff has enhanced my job as a police wildlife officer and opened the doors to many new contacts in the angling and fishery businesses to assist with joint Patrols.”  – Nick, South West

“Great Training, information and advice. Flexible times and locations to suit you. A very enjoyable cause. Come and join us.”  – Terry, South West

“For me, Joining the Voluntary Bailiff Service is a way I can give something back to the community, making good use of my retirement. It is not about catching people doing wrong, for me the reward comes from educating and helping people do things right, both in terms of legalities but also in looking after our waters and wildlife.”  – Clifford, Midlands

“I guess I got to an age when I felt the need to give something back to the sport of angling. I was already a club bailiff and the Voluntary Bailiff Service seemed to be a natural extension of what the clubs were doing individually already. I firmly believe that the work I have done in my area has had a huge impact. I strongly urge all anglers who have some spare time to get involved.”  – Michael, North West

“The Voluntary Bailiff Service is a very important and vital organisation for us as anglers. As a Voluntary Bailiff I can help to protect our beautiful sport.” – Maciej, South East

“The updating of the electronic database is quick and easy and can be used by anyone without IT knowledge.”  – Ben, VB and PCSO

“Got to say I had a great time meeting and patrolling with you all. Great place and great people. Days like that are what life is about. Plenty of people asked me what the Angling Trust was about, it was great to get such a positive reaction.”  – Graeme, North East

Paul, an Environment Agency Fisheries Enforcement Officer, contacted us to say: “I carried out a joint patrol on Thursday with one of your VBS bailiffs. I just want to say what a credit he is to the VBS. From my perspective he is exactly what the VBS was set up for. Even if he doesn’t note any illegal activities, we know that on a regular basis the key areas are being covered without using EA resources, allowing us to focus in other areas.”


Operation TRAVERSE and Operation LEVIATHAN



Poaching – fishing without permission – and fish theft, along with anti-social behaviour and other crime at fisheries are of great concern to all anglers.

In 2012, the Angling Trust had the foresight to engage life-long angler and retired West Mercia police officer Dilip Sarkar MBE to lead on coordinating the response to this issue and briefing police forces nationwide. Working closely with the National Police Chiefs’ Council, Crown Prosecution Service and Magistrates’ Association, awareness was increased, and a multi-agency response initiated. 

Whilst the police deal with criminal matters, the Environment Agency is the statutory lead agency on fisheries enforcement. Essentially, this largely involves rod licence compliance and fisheries offences. Clearly then, the police and Agency have distinct roles – and must work smarter together.

To encourage this, in November 2014 Operation TRAVERSE, targeting poaching and fish theft, was launched at Lincolnshire Police headquarters, followed in June 2015, by Operation LEVIATHAN, launched at West Mercia Police headquarters. Most forces in the country now subscribe to one or other, ensuring that the Agency receives better support and anglers an improved service.

We must all understand that the system is ‘intelligence-led’, meaning that every incoming call and piece of information is vital. Indeed, the statistics arising are what quantify problems and arguments for more resources.

It is crucial that crimes in progress are reported to the police (police advise using 999 if appropriate), and fisheries offences to the Agency on 0800 80 70 60.