PLANS by police to help tackle poachers on Highland rivers has been criticised by a local MSP who fears they may be “the lackies to the landed gentry”.
A wildlife crime officer recently joined water bailiffs on Loch Ness, leading to one person being reported for a poaching offence.
Joint patrols of local rivers and Loch Ness are planned during the rest of 2014.
But Highland List Independent MSP John Finnie, a former policemen, fears police resources are being used for the benefit of landowners.
He said: “Police Scotland should be sensitive to the historical cultural issues where the police were once seen as being the agents to the landed gentry and elite.
“There is a risk the police could become the lackies for landowners.
“I am not condoning lawbreaking, but just as police officers don’t patrol supermarkets on the chance of shoplifting, I don’t think officers are gainfully employed if they are out patrolling with water bailiffs.”
He said police should be reactive to landowners’ own efforts in catching poachers, such as supermarkets have their own staff out patrolling the stores for shoplifters.
A Police Scotland wildlife crime officer joined water bailiffs from the Ness District Salmon Board on a boat-based patrol of Loch Ness on Saturday.
The boat used was a licensed rigid hulled inflatable boat operated by the Spey District Salmon Board.
The purpose of the patrol was to engage with members of the community who were fishing from boats or from the shores to ensure their compliance with the Salmon and Freshwater Fisheries (Consolidation) Scotland Act 2003.
Eight boats were stopped on the loch and eight anglers on the shores of the loch were also spoken to.
Several anglers were offered educational words of advice and one person will be reported for a poaching offence.
A Police Scotland spokesman said poaching was one of the national UK wildlife crime priorities and tackling those involved it remains a priority for the local partnership between water bailiffs and wildlife crime officers.
He said poaching can greatly affect the stock levels of salmon and sea trout which in turn can have a negative effect on the local tourism economy.
Police Wildlife crime officer, PC Cailean Macleod said: “By working in partnership with the water bailiffs, Police Scotland can tackle those involved in poaching more effectively, and those who are often involved in other forms of rural criminality. This enables Police Scotland to keep the communities we serve even safer.”
Chris Conroy, director of Ness District Salmon Board said: “Salmon on their return journey from the sea migrate rapidly through the six miles of the River Ness and enter the relative safety of the deep waters of Loch Ness. Here they stay until the autumn when they migrate upstream and downstream into rivers and tributaries to spawn.
“By ensuring that the local rules and regulations on the Loch are adhered to and preventing the illegal exploitation of fish, we aim to maximise the numbers going on to successfully spawn. Anglers should be aware that fishing for salmon and sea trout without the written consent of the owner of the fishing rights is a criminal offence.”