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Illegal Netting / Fishing - What is Legal and What is Not!

Incident Hotline (24 Hour Service)

England / Scotland: 0800 80 70 60

  Wales:  0300 065 3000

 Ireland:  1890 34 74 24


This is a very complex subject and is not easily answered, as byelaws vary from region to region. In England, these areas are controlled by the Environment Agency, and locally, by Inshore Fisheries and Conservation Authorities (IFCAs). The IFCAs are accountable to the Marine Management Organisation (MMO) and are responsible from inshore, harbours, estuaries beaches etc. to six nautical miles out to sea. The six mile line is generated from offshore drying rocks and bay closing lines, which in some areas extends the IFCA district way beyond what may be expected. Environment Agency responsibilities for migratory fish (salmon and sea trout) and fish covered by the Salmon and Freshwater Fisheries Act extend from freshwater to the six mile limit. All are governed by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra).

The European Commission can make laws relating to fishing. These are the ground rules and can relate to both commercial and recreational fishing across the whole of Europe. The MMO makes national laws that relate to the extent of the national fishery limit (up to 200 miles) and which are generally more restrictive than the European rules. The IFCAs make byelaws for their own districts which apply to all persons, whether commercial or recreational. IFCA byelaws are more restrictive again than national rules, providing extra protection for certain fisheries. IFCA byelaws are especially useful where there are locally important fisheries that the EU and national legislation would not be able to protect adequately. All three tiers of legislation operate at the same time and need to be read and applied together.

There are ten IFC districts, with their corresponding IFCAs, in England. The IFCAs are:


  • North Western
  • 01524 727970

  • Northumberland
  • 01670 797676

  • North Eastern
  • 01482 393515

  • Eastern
  • 01553 775321  &
       07798 588861 (09:00-17:00)

  • Kent and Essex
  • 01843 585310 Kent,
       01843 585310 Essex

  • Sussex
  • 01273 454407

  • Southern
  • 01202 721373

  • Devon and Severn
  • 01803 854648  &
       07740 175479 out of hours

  • Cornwall
  • 07794 360221  &
       01736 336842

  • Isles of Scilly
  • 01720 424588


    Best advice is to immediately report any suspicious activity. Activities such as launching a boat from a trailer in the countryside are obviously suspicious, as well as placing nets across small inlets and in rural areas. Much illegal fishing is done from kayaks or from the shore, or maybe by someone using a rod and line. Many estuaries, especially in the South West, are bass nursery areas and have their own byelaws applying to recreational and commercial fishing. In Cornwall (Cornwall IFCA) and Devon, Somerset and Gloucestershire (D&S IFCA), recent byelaws make virtually all netting in harbours and estuaries illegal. Laws regarding salmon and sea trout are applicable from fresh water all the way out to six miles. If you are suspicious, please report the incident; it is the future of all our fishing that is being stolen. It is also worth considering the Minimum Landing Size requirements (MLS), now more often called the MCRS (Minimum Conservation Reference Size). For species considered commercially important, these are published by the MMO:

    IFCAs will usually have their own published sizes, including other species, and details can be easily found on their websites; these sizes apply to commercial and recreational fishermen.

    In England, the Environment Agency and IFCAs are responsible for enforcement; the telephone number is the same:

    Incident Hotline (24 Hour Service)

    England / Scotland: 0800 80 70 60

      Wales:  0300 065 3000

     Ireland:  1890 34 74 24

    Angling in Rivers and Estuaries

    Fishing with a rod and line for sea fish does not require a rod licence. However, if you intend to fish toward the top end of a tidal area, and certainly in fresh water where mullet are often found, it may avoid an unnecessary argument if you have the relevant licence.

    Advice given by the Environment Agency to their own officers for enforcement is detailed below:

    • A rod licence is required to fish for salmon, trout, freshwater (coarse) fish, smelt or eels.
    • Anglers do not need a rod licence to fish for sea fish species such as bass, flounder or mullet.
    • For enforcement, our staff will consider whether the angler is fishing at a location and with equipment liable to catch the species of fish for which a rod licence is needed. If so we will enforce the licence requirement.
    • Anglers will still need to adhere to byelaws when fishing for sea fish species.

    As you can see, enforcement is very much open to interpretation and common sense. If you are fishing for mullet in an area where you are likely to encounter coarse fish, you would certainly have to adhere to byelaws relating to baits and tactics. Further proof of National Mullet Club membership would obviously help to persuade any bailiff of your perfectly legitimate intentions. The same would obviously apply should you be spinning for mullet or bass where migratory fish (salmon and sea trout) are likely to be encountered. It is therefore important to adhere to the byelaws relating to each region which can be found here:


    If you do not already have one, you may wish to purchase an Environment Agency rod license at: