A CRACKDOWN has been launched on poachers after illegal crayfish nets were discovered in a Hampshire river.
Two trapping nets have been found in the River Itchen in Bishopstoke over the past fortnight sparking fears that the county’s internationally rare crayfish could be at serious risk.
The Environment Agency is now appealing for the public to raise the alarm if any more nets are spotted or if they witness any being left in the water.
Agency officials very rarely approve licences for trapping crayfish in Hampshire due to their low numbers within the counties waterways.
The whiteclawed crayfish is internationally rare but can still be found in the region and is the only crayfish species native to the UK, so is specially protected by UK law.
Kerry Evans, fisheries specialist, said: “Our officers responded to a report from a member of the public to seize an illegal crayfish net on the River Itchen.
“Although many of the crayfish in our rivers today are not native to Britain, having escaped from crayfish farms, the surviving population of native crayfish in Hampshire are vulnerable to people accidently catching them when out fishing for non-native crayfish species.
“There is evidence that trapping makes the problems associated with nonnative crayfish much worse.”
She added that non-native crayfish populations in southern and central Hampshire, including the rivers Test, Itchen and Meon, are still in relatively low numbers, allowing native species to thrive.
“We want to keep it that way and so we do not wish to give licences so that we may help the population to spread”, she said.“We are grateful that the net was reported to us so we could act upon it.”
Anyone with information should contact the Environment Agency Incident Hotline on 0800 807060.