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Angling Trust chief executive, Mark Lloyd brings you this week’s blog.
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INCREASE THE FINES FOR POLLUTING WATERCOURSES!
OUR lawyers at Fish Legal, who act on behalf of over 1,000 angling clubs and fisheries throughout the UK, have this week highlighted the low level of fines paid by offenders in the UK for polluting watercourses.
We have written to the Sentencing Council welcoming its proposals for tougher pollution penalties, particularly for large companies, but urging it to go much further.
Our response coincided with news from the USA of a paper company being fined a total of $3.3 million for polluting the Pearl River in Louisiana, killing 160,000 fish. This is many times greater than the amount that would be currently possible in the UK.
Even under the Sentencing Council’s beefed-up proposals, the absolute maximum fine for the same offence in the UK would be £2 million, provided there were not any mitigating factors such as an early guilty plea to reduce it.
Fish Legal has direct experience of many pollution-related criminal prosecutions through its work taking civil claims on behalf of its member angling clubs, fisheries and riparian owners. Our lawyers have repeatedly seen multi-national companies fined a few thousand pounds for offences which cause significant and long-term damage to the water environment and to fisheries.
We pointed out in our response that if we are to deter, punish and remove financial gain from offenders then the range of fines must go much higher for big business polluters. Water and sewage companies are some of the worst repeat offenders and this is because it ‘pays to pollute’. It would seem that some of them would rather pay a fine than spend many millions more on upgrading their infrastructure – this commercial saving is financial gain that needs to be removed so they are incentivised to respect the environment and stop polluting.
Fish Legal, which acts as the legal arm of the Angling Trust in England, has called for the Council to:
- Increase the levels of maximum and minimum fines still further
- Include absolute minimum levels under which fines shall not go no matter what
- Remove upper limits for the most serious offences to enable sentencers to sanction the worst offenders appropriately and remove financial gain
- Ensure that companies are properly assessed for their ability to pay so that the bigger the company, the higher the fine
- To extend the review of offences to the Salmon and Freshwater Fisheries Act 1975, which was not included, so prosecutors focus on the injury caused to fish and not just technical breaches of permits
- To take into account the cumulative impact of multiple apparently minor pollution incidents that still seriously affects biodiversity and lead to the ‘death of rivers by a thousand cuts’
- Ensure that it is not cheaper to pollute and pay the fine than to invest in pollution prevention measures and remain within the law
- To take into account the previous record of a company, including offences which were not prosecuted (e.g. repeat warnings or other enforcement measures)
- To consider the impact of water pollution on the amenity value for angling
- To ensure that angling clubs and those who own or lease fishing rights are consulted about any measures to pay compensation or take remedial action
- To hear evidence from angling interests and others directly affected by pollution when determining the level of fines.
We must have a really powerful deterrent to those who spill toxic waste into the water environment. We urge the Sentencing Council to stand firm against the inevitable pressure from companies who will call for fines to be maintained at their current pathetically-low level.
Anglers are fed up with seeing corporate fat cats walking away from the courts with little more than a slap on the wrist for polluting rivers, lakes and coastlines. The health of these waters is vital for the well-being of everyone in the country, and particularly for several million anglers and the angling industry which employs 37,000 people.
Our response is attached as a downloadable PDF.
This represents many days work by our lawyers, whose salaries are paid by the small proportion of anglers who have joined the Angling Trust and Fish Legal as individual members. We need more support so that we can fight for fish and fishing on your behalf. Join today for just £25 a year at www.anglingtrust.net
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