The leader of a gang of illegal fisherman escaped jail and was forced to pay just £1 in nominal fines after being found guilty of stealing £62,000 worth of salmon and trout.
The judge at Swansea Crown Court said on Friday he was ‘surprised’ there was no prison sentence for the crime.
Emlyn Rees, 35, was caught after 20 years of illegal poaching, out of which seven years was proved to be criminal.
He was trapped by his own photographs and diary of his prize catches.
Bricklayer Rees was traced after an illegal net was rigged up to catch salmon and sea trout.
Emlyn Rees, 35, plundered more than £60,000 worth of trout and salmon – and was fined £1
Rees’s poaching gang were blamed for plundering the waters of the River Teifi in West Wales – and saw salmon stocks drop from 4,342 to 1,197 since 2005.
A ‘poaching diary’ of a log book containing dates, photographs of the gang alongside their catches and fish records dating back 20 years was found by bailiffs at his home.
During a search of Rees’ property, bailiffs seized nets, sacks, ropes and two freezers stocked with fish.
The court heard it earnt Rees around £61,751 – but the money has vanished.
The court heard he is awaiting an operation and is on benefits because he cannot work as a bricklayer.
Rees, of Cenarth, Carmarthenshire, had pleaded guilty to eight charges relating to the illegal handling of salmon at Haverfordwest Magistrates – and was sent to Swansea Crown Court for sentence.
Rees (left) is pictured with fellow fishermen Matthew Phillips and Dafydd Rees
His Honour Judge PH Thomas QC fined him £1,600 and awarded the nominal £1 amount awarded for compensation for his proceeds of crime – and said: ‘I imagine members of the public will question that.’
‘It is certainly not a case of the court giving him a free pass. It is recognition that the court has not been able to identify any assets.’
Swansea Crown Court heard that he could not be sent to prison – because there is no custody for poaching.
‘It is surprising that there is no custodial option,’ said Judge Thomas. ‘Had there been, the chances are I would have taken that custodial option.’
Judge Thomas went on to fine Rees £200 for each offence totalling £1,600. He also awarded costs of £1,000.
‘You have been a persistent poacher of salmon and sewin over many many years,’ he said. ‘You had significant impacts on fish stocks in the river.
‘Unfortunately, I have no power to imprison and can impose nothing more than a fine. However, I take this very seriously.
‘I can only fine you what you can afford. I have some misgivings over what you say about your means, but I can only fine you what you are able to pay over the course of two years.
‘I can only order you to pay an amount that is affordable regarding costs. There is also the proceeds of crime application in excess of £60,000. I can only impose a £1 charge on you.’
Prosecutor Jon Tarron said: ‘Emlyn Rees was undoubtedly the control factor in this large-scale poaching operation.
‘For over two decades, others were all involved on different scales.’
His fishing crime spree was halted when at 5am the bailiffs saw a man in dark clothes walking across the fields carrying a large rucksack.
He was seen to pull a net from the river and remove trout.
A court heard Rees fled the scene by jumping into the river near Cenarth, West Wales, in a bid to escape the river patrol.
But he was later arrested – and a search of his home uncovered the rest of the poaching gang dating back 20 years.
During a search of his property bailiffs seized nets, sacks, ropes and two freezers stocked with fish.
‘The damage of an operation like this is painfully obvious,’ said Mr Tarron.
After the case, Gavin Bown, of Natural Resources Wales, said: ‘The impact of this illegal fishing operation on the Teifi, other watercourses and coastal waters cannot be underestimated.
‘These caused terrible damage to the stocks of salmon and sea trout and have seriously hindered the future prospects for the stocks of these iconic species.
‘Their actions negate the outcomes and benefits that would otherwise arise from investment by responsible river users and from public funds.
‘I would like to thank our dedicated team of Enforcement Officers, whose detailed and dogged investigation exposed an astounding scale of criminality.’