THE Environment Agency is urging witnesses to come forward after illegal crayfish nets were found in the River Itchen at Bishopstoke.

Agency specialists sprang into action after they were alerted to the net by a member of the public and have asked for further sightings to be reported as soon as possible.

It is the second time in as many weeks such an incident has been reported.

Kerry Evans, fisheries specialist, said: “Our officers responded to a report from a member of the public to seize an illegal crayfish net on the River Itchen. The Environment Agency rarely approves licences for trapping crayfish in Hampshire. The white-clawed crayfish is internationally rare but can still be found in Hampshire, and is the only crayfish species native to the UK and is specially protected by UK law.

“Although many of the crayfish in our rivers today are not native to Britain, having escaped from crayfish farms, the surviving population of native crayfish in Hampshire are vulnerable to people accidently catching them when out fishing for non-native crayfish species.

“There is evidence that trapping makes the problems associated with non-native crayfish much worse. Trapping tends to catch the larger crayfish, usually aggressive males, and the larger crayfish can hold back the growth of non-native crayfish populations. In southern and central Hampshire, including the rivers Test, Itchen and Meon, our non-native crayfish populations are still in relatively low numbers. We want to keep it that way and so we do not wish to give licenses that may help the population to spread.

“We are grateful that the net was reported to us so we could act upon it.”

Anyone with information should contact the Environment Agency Incident Hotline on 0800 807060.