The leader of an illegal fishing gang has avoided jail and had to pay nominal fines of just £1 after being found guilty of stealing £62,000 worth of salmon and trout.

A judge at Swansea Crown Court said on Friday he was “surprised” that for crime.

Emlyn Rees, 35, was caught after 20 years of illegal poaching, of which seven years were criminal offences.

He was trapped in his own photos and diary of his prize catches.

Mason Rees was found after an illegal salmon and sea trout net was set.

Emlyn Rees, 35, stole more than £60,000 worth of trout and salmon and was fined £1

Reese’s poaching gang has been accused of raiding West Wales’ River Tayfi – and since 2005 salmon stocks have fallen from 4,342 to 1,197.

Bailiffs found a “poaching diary” at his home containing dates, photos of the gang with their catches and fishing records from 20 years ago.

During a search of Reese’s property, bailiffs seized nets, sacks, ropes and two freezers of fish.

The court heard that this earned Reese around £61,751, but the money disappeared.

The court found out that he is awaiting surgery and is on benefits because he cannot work as a bricklayer.

Rees, of Sennarth, Carmarthenshire, pleaded guilty to eight counts of illegal handling of salmon at Haverfordwest Magistrates’ Court and was sent to Swansea Crown Court for sentencing.

His Honor Judge PH Thomas QC fined him £1,600 and ordered him to pay a nominal sum of £1 in proceeds of crime compensation and said: “I imagine members of the public will question that.”

“This is certainly not a case where the court is giving him a free pass. It is an admission that the court was unable to discover any assets.’

Swansea Crown Court heard he cannot be sent to prison – because he is not on remand for poaching.

“It is surprising that there is no custodial option,” Judge Thomas said. “If it was, I would most likely choose that custody option.”

Judge Thomas fined Rees £200 for each offense for a total of £1,600. He also ordered costs of £1,000.

“You’ve been a stubborn poacher of salmon and sewin for years,” he said. “You have greatly affected the fish stocks in the river.

“Unfortunately, I do not have the right to imprison and cannot impose anything other than a fine. However, I take it very seriously.

“I can only fine you what you can afford. I have some concerns about what you say about your funds, but I can only fine you the amount you can pay in two years.

“I can only order you to pay the amount that is cost-effective. There is also an application for proceeds of crime in excess of £60,000. I can only charge you £1.’

Prosecutor John Taron said: “Emlyn Rees was undoubtedly the controlling factor in this large-scale poaching operation.

“For more than two decades, others have participated to varying degrees.”

His criminal fishing spree came to a halt when bailiffs saw a man in dark clothing walking through the fields with a large rucksack at 5am.

He was seen pulling a net out of the river and catching trout.

The court heard that Rees fled the scene by jumping into a river near Senart, West Wales, in an attempt to evade the river patrol.

But he was later arrested – and a search of his home revealed the remnants of a poaching gang dating back 20 years.

During the search of his property, bailiffs confiscated nets, sacks, ropes and two freezers with fish.

“The harm of such an operation is painfully obvious,” said Mr. Taran.

After the incident, Gavin Bown, from Natural Resources Wales, said: “The impact of this illegal fishing operation on the Teifey, other waterways and coastal waters cannot be underestimated.

“This has caused terrible damage to salmon and sea trout stocks and seriously worsened the future prospects for the stocks of these iconic species.

“Their actions nullify the results and benefits that would otherwise have resulted from investments by responsible river users and public funds.

“I would like to thank our dedicated team of law enforcement officers whose detailed and persistent investigation uncovered the staggering scale of the crime.”

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