STURGEON stocks in a day ticket Norfolk lake have landed the former fishery manager with a Right Royal fine of £3,665.

Kings Lynn magistrates imposed the sternest possible sentence on Tim Phillips, who ran Witchlake at Hockwold between June 2007 and August 2010, for keeping a prohibited non-native species without a valid licence under the 1980 Import of Live Fish Act. He pleaded guilty.

The 2.5 acre £75 per 24 hours venue first hit the headlines in 2007 with the capture of a 130 lb-plus catfish, swiftly followed by a string of mega sturgeon – a species dubbed ‘The Royal Fish’ – in the 40 to 80 lb bracket.

The Environment Agency set about a patient investigation in partnership with CEFAS and DEFRA – culminating in the UK’s first prosecution under the act’s Orders which were amended in 2003.

The full story – including words from various parties involved, and a Witchlake catch picture – appears in this week’s Angler’s Mail magazine.

Kye Jerrom, EA Anglian Central Fisheries officer who led the compilation of case evidence, told,: ‘We are all pleased with the verdict, especially considering the leniency of some previous fisheries related court cases nationwide.’

Sturgeon - the Witchlake court judgement over "The Royal Fish" is sure to send a ripple of worry around the British fisheries scene. Creatures like this live in a surprising number of accessible waters.

Witchlake saga timeline

June 2007 – Tim Phillips takes over fishery licence

January 2008 – Applies to amend licence to allow the keeping of sturgeon, plus to change the site name from Mac’s Lake to Witchlake.

March 2008 – Time-limited licence issued by CEFAS (Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science) with a condition to remove all sturgeon from lake by 31 August 2008

March 2009 – DEFRA write to Phillips after licence extension expires with the fish still not removed, pointing out that putting sturgeon back into the fishing lake was a criminal offence.

August 2010 – Temporary licence finally revoked. EA officers remove five sturgeon by electro-fishing, giving them to Phillips to put into an ornamental lake on-site.

May 2011 – Phillips fined a total of £3665 in fines and costs by Kings Lynn magistrates.