THREE Bridgwater fishermen have been fined and ordered to pay costs of £2,500 after being caught using illegal nets to catch baby eels on the River Parrett.

All three cases were brought by the Environment Agency at the end of last month after fisheries bailiffs saw the three men using elver nets while on a routine patrol near Bridgwater.

When examined, the nets were found to be illegal in ways that contravened the elver fishing bylaws.

"The use of oversized nets gives fisherman an unfair advantage over their law-abiding colleagues and enables them to catch additional elvers thereby reducing the number of young eels escaping upstream and depriving natural predators of a valuable source of food," said Richard Dearnley for the Environment Agency.

Mark Miller, 45, from Kings Drive, Westonzoyland, was fined £170 and ordered to pay £740 costs and had his net confiscated by the Environment Agency and destroyed by the courts.

Paul Billing, 56, of Seversham Avenue, Bridgwater, was fined £450 and ordered to pay £500 costs. His net is also to be destroyed.

David Hayward, 58, of Huntworth Lane, Bridgwater, was fined £240 and ordered to pay £400 costs. His fishing equipment was seized and will be destroyed.

Around 200 fishermen are licensed to catch elvers in Somerset after the baby eels have journeyed from the Sargasso Sea off the Gulf of Mexico and made their way up the River Parrett.

Appearing before magistrates in Bridgwater, the three fishermen admitted fishing for elvers with a prohibited instrument in contravention of the National Eel Fishery Bylaws 2004 and the Freshwater Fisheries Act 1975.