Fishing in troubled waters: a pax Britannica?

Brian Scott (45) and Ross Blaikie (31) were duly convicted in Jedburgh Sheriff Court on 10 September 2010 of fishing the Liddle Water near Newcastleton without a licence to do so having been previously obtained from the Environment Agency.  In the light of the information produced by our earlier post on the subject, this was not a surprising outcome.

But the result was nonetheless interesting, as Sheriff Kevin Drummond chose only to admonish Mr Scott and gave Mr Blaikie an absolute discharge – letting them both "off the hook", as The Scotsman put it in the fullest account of proceedings seen by Scots Law News.  mr Scott was admonished only because he had a previous conviction for poaching in 2001.

The report makes clear that there is a background of local contention.  The Environment Agency, it will be recalled, is in general a body with authority only in England but has powers over the fisheries in the River Esk system because that river flows through both England and Scotland.  The Liddle Water is part of the Esk system but actually defines the Anglo-Scottish border at the point where the two men were fishing.  It appears that in the past the Environment Agency had not made a practice of demanding licences for fishing on the Scottish side of the line but had begun to change its practice in about 2005.  This has been the subject of protest, and in effect the case of Messrs Scott and Blaikie was to test and highlight the position – in which it certainly succeeded.

Sheriff Drummond seems to have pointed the way to a compromise which might take the heat out of the situation, the Environment Agency's power to waive its licensing fees where they had adverse economic impacts in a rural area.  The hint seems to have been taken: on 21 September the BBC reported that the Environment Agency was "currently exploring the possibility of issuing a general licence with the fisheries' interests on the Scottish part of the Esk."