Sunday, 13 March 2011

Does this fish belong to her majesty?

The sturgeon like the swan belongs to the monarch and any sturgeon captured in British waters have to be offered to the Queen. Being on the "Red List" and classified as critically endangered the Queen is hardly inundated with offers of sturgeon, hence the fiasco reported by the BBC News in 2004.


 A sturgeon caught in Swansea Bay which disappeared after police intercepted it during an investigation into its alleged illegal sale has been traced.

Police moved in at the fish market in Plymouth, Devon, on Thursday, as the 9ft long, 264lb fish, went to auction. Officers had been alerted because sturgeon, whose eggs are sold as caviar, is a protected species. But after Devon and Cornwall Police scenes of crime officers had taken pictures of the fish, it vanished.

A spokesman for the force said that officers regained possession of the huge fish at an undisclosed location on Friday. He added: "We have had a phone call and as a result we have seen the fish at a location which we are not going to release. The inquiry goes on. The fish is now under police possession and we are seeing if any criminal offences have been committed." It is believed that the fish is due to be transferred to the Natural History Museum on Monday.

The sturgeon was caught accidentally in fisherman Robert Davies' net in Swansea Bay on Wednesday. Mr Davies, 27, of Llanelli, first offered the sturgeon, classed as a royal fish, to the Queen after catching it in Swansea Bay on Wednesday afternoon. After receiving a fax from Buckingham Palace saying he could "dispose of it as he saw fit", he travelled to Plymouth to sell it at auction. It had been bought for £650 by a fish wholesaler before police moved in.

Fisherman Mr Davies said police called him on Thursday to ask if he knew where it was. "They've lost the fish," he said. "They called to ask if I had it but I haven't got it."

It is not illegal to catch or keep a sturgeon, providing it is offered to The Queen first and officers said if it had been given away for free or kept by the fisherman, no offence would have been committed. The sturgeon is rarely seen in UK waters and is classified as a "royal" fish - a status granted by King Edward II.


So what am I doing even contemplating fishing for sturgeon....hey, the death penalty is still in place for treason!

Luckily the sturgeon that have been stocked into a number of stillwaters around the country are not the native species but several species that originate from Russia. The Environment Agency have not sanctioned any stocking of sturgeon, so where have they come from? Some are dumped pets, some deliberate illegal stockings, and in the case of the fishery I visited in Warwickshire the owners bought a farm unaware of what might be in the lakes buried amongst the trees.

After a couple of circuits of the deserted lake I settled on a swim that gave me a view of the whole lake. Any fish cruising the margins would be intercepted as they moved out of the bay to my right. A float fished lift method style was used in the margin and my other rod was fished in the open water on a running leger rig. Bait was a cube of luncheon meat soaked in salmon oil, fished over a couple of handfuls of dead red maggots.  

As the water was still cold, free offerings were kept to a minimum. After an hour my float dipped briefly before sliding away - I struck. I was obviously attached to a  large fish, the clutch ticking as the fish slowly took line. After about five minutes I finally saw that it was a sturgeon and not a big carp.

On the scales it weighed 25lb 7oz. After a couple of photos, I returned this prehistoric looking creature to the murky waters of the small lake.

Then, breaking out in a cold sweat, I remembered that the sturgeon that got Mr Davies in so much trouble wasn't even the native species 'Acipenser Sturio', but an American fish that was ever so slightly lost. 

I began to write:

Dear Queenie................................................