A BRAVE angler has been hailed a hero for confronting and videoing alleged poachers in the early hours of the morning after they had been apparently illegally netting bass from Dorset’s Poole Harbour.

Southern Inshore Fisheries and Conservation Authority and Police have been investigating by using the video, photos and equipment he took as evidence.

Ultra-tight 2018 conservation rules mean anglers cannot land take any bass, regardless of size, for the table from much of the British coastline.

Shore angler Steve Cullen was asleep in a car park, between fishing venues, when he was awoken by someone mistakenly opening his car door at 4 am.

The alarm fitter from Havant in Hampshire explained: “I jumped out to see three blokes stood there and kicked off. They were very apologetic and somehow confused my silver Touran with their white Range Rover parked next to me.

“I began wondering what three Vietnamese men were doing bringing a boat into the harbour at that time and I went and had a look.

“I found gill-netting with a bucket of undersize bass in their boat, and I saw red and slung the bucket of fish back in the water.

“I took the net off them as well but no doubt they’ll just buy another and be up to it again.

“They were from a Vietnamese restaurant called Eat Pho in Bournemouth that was clearly advertised on the side of their vehicles.

“I reported the matter to the fishing authorities and spent three hours today giving them a comprehensive statement,” he concluded.

Bass backlash by angry anglers

The incident stirred a social media storm with people livid at what had happened, especially as recreational anglers have been barred from taking home any bass that they catch.

Even commercial fishermen are severely restricted.

One of the ‘bass men’ caught on camera by sea angler Steve Cullen.

Hostile comments were posted on the Eat Pho restaurant’s Facebook page which was eventually taken down.

A similar backlash on the restaurant review page on TripAdvisor resulted in scores of comments being removed.

Ben Tran, owner of Eat Pho in Bournemouth, quickly issued an apology, stating: “I would like to apologize for my actions which have offended the fishing community on social media in regard to fishing undersize bass.

“I am not a fisherman, have no experience in fishing and honestly I was not aware of the ban while doing this.

“It’s Bank Holiday weekend so I just decided to take our boat out after work with some friends, thinking to relax after a stressful few weeks.

“If you ever visit our website or our restaurant, you would know that we have never served sea bass. Our pure intention when going fishing is just for entertainment only.

“We respect what the Government has been doing to protect our environment, and would never do anything to go against that.

“It’s my mistake in catching the fish without knowledge of the rules, and take full responsibility for what I have done.

“I deeply apologize for my actions and will never fish again with any methods,” he added.

Bass-taking reactions

Southern IFCA launched an investigation and have been working with Dorset Police.

A spokesman noted: “We should like to thank those who have come forward with information and provide assurance that a full criminal investigation is being conducted.

“The protection of bass stocks is a priority for the UK government and for the local Inshore Fisheries and Conservation Authorities. Bass stocks are in a perilous state,” he concluded.

Martin Salter, head of campaigns at the Angling Trust, commented: “Great work by Steve Cullen for challenging the culprits, and it’s good to see IFCA are looking to prosecute.

“Sadly there are far too many examples of illegal netting for bass and the authorities need to up their game.

“The Angling Trust has been working hard to get the Government to reverse the ban on anglers taking a single bass and it is particularly galling to see poachers flouting the law like this for profit,” he added.

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