TWO poachers were caught stealing fish from the River Wear.
A court heard that friends Neil Rusworth and Ben Taylor were spotted near the water’s edge at Low Barmston in September last year, taking salmon and sea trout without a licence.
They both pleaded guilty to the offence and also admitted obstructing a water bailiff on the same date.
Environment Agency prosecutor Niall Carlin told Sunderland Magistrates’ Court that officers from the agency spotted Taylor taking six fish from a net, helped by Rushworth.
Mr Carlin said: “When they were approached by officers, Taylor ran back to the water and threw the fish in.
“Downstream of where the incident was, the officers found a camp that had been set up.
“Taylor and Rushworth admitted it was their camp and they had stayed at the camp overnight.
“A second net was found at that location in addition to a number of other fish.
“Some fish had been gutted and it appeared at least one of them had been eaten or partially eaten.”
In interview, Rushworth, 36, said he had no memory of the incident on September 8 and Taylor, 29, made no reply to questions.
Each fish caught represented £4,620 to the local economy, Mr Carlin said, as the angling industry in the North East was worth £46million.
Defending the fishermen, Gerry Armstrong said at the time of the offence, Taylor, of Birrell Square, Town End Farm, was subject to a conditional discharge.
In a bid to stay out of trouble, he borrowed a tent and went down to Hylton riverside with Rushworth, of Rutherglen Road, Red House.
After drinking some lager, Rushworth swam across the river and grabbed two nets left by anglers they had been watching earlier.
Mr Armstrong said: “One was then thrown into the river and whether it was beginner’s luck or what here, lo and behold, they managed to catch a fish.
“They gutted it using a piece of wood, as it was a spur of the moment thing.
“They caught it, they cooked it, they quite enjoyed it.
“They drank the rest of the lager and were well under the influence.
“They decided to throw the net out again and that is when the water bailiffs came across them.
“They were lucky they did not drown, as they were that drunk.”
Magistrates adjourned the case for pre-sentence reports from the Probation Service.