Fish thief unmasked in £10,000 crime mystery

Anne Newiss next to her fish pond which has been covered to protect their new fish after an Otter has eaten thousands of pounds worth of fish.

Picture: James Bass

Anne Newiss next to her fish pond which has been covered to protect their new fish after an Otter has eaten thousands of pounds worth of fish. Picture: James Bass

(C) Archant Norfolk 2015

A fish thief who has killed over £10,000 worth of fish in the last four months has been identified as none other than an otter, who has broken into gardens all over one coastal village.

Anne and John Newiss' pond before they had to protect it from ottersAnne and John Newiss' pond before they had to protect it from otters

Pond owners in Hopton have been forced to take action to protect their finned friends, after one woman lost over 50 koi, one of which she had for over 32 years.

Anne Newiss and her husband, John, who live in Potters Drive, have kept fish for many years, having moved their collection to Hopton with them when they moved to the area 16 years ago.

“It all started in June,” said Anne, 68. “I looked at the pond in the morning and I thought ‘something isn’t right here’, because it had been disturbed.

“I didn’t know if it was a heron or something else, but when I saw one of our fish, Big Bertha as we called her, it just reduced me to tears as overnight, she had been dragged to a pond shelf and just had the guts pulled out of her just under the gills, and she’d been left to die.”

An Otter hunts in the River Little Ouse in Thetford. Photograph Simon ParkerAn Otter hunts in the River Little Ouse in Thetford. Photograph Simon Parker

Anne was devastated to find that on following nights more fish were dragged from her pond. She said: “Bertha was my friend and would eat out of my hand, she was special, but losing the others was just as bad.

“Most of them were over 3ft long. Can you imagine the speed and power of a 3ft grass carp being pulled out of the pond by its tail? We lost three of those and are left with one lonely one but you can never replace anything like that.”

Anne and John took precautions to protect their remaining fish, setting up a laser alarm system which would alert them to any problems at their 20ft x 30ft pond.

“We were up all night!” Anne said. “But finally we saw the culprit on our patio, and it was an otter.”

The nearest body of water to the village, Lound Lakes, is the closest natural habitat of otters. Although this is around two miles away from Anne’s house, reports have been given of otters found dead on the busy A12 road, which they would have to cross to reach the village.

Penny Hemphill, water for wildlife advisor at Suffolk Wildlife Trust, said: “It wouldn’t be that unusual for an otter to find its way using streams and ditches to get to somewhere where its smelt food.

“They have a territory of up to 40 miles, which they’ll patrol over about seven days, so its not unlikely for them to stray a litt.e”

Over the top of their pond, Anne and John have now built a 3ft high timber and wire mesh surround with a timber and wire mesh roof, but they said that the pond, which was once a feature of the garden, does not look the same.

“The pond water is now out of condition, as we had to do serious water changes to get the mess off the bottom, including fish debris.

“And the otter left an oily residue in the water, as soon as you vacuumed the otter trails, a sort of oil came up to the top of the water.

“It’s been absolutely heartbreaking,” Anne added.

The law states that killing an otter is an offence punishable by a £5,000 fine or six months in prison, and they can only be hunted with a special licence, none of which have ever been issued. The deliberate capturing, disturbing and injuring is also banned.

And although Anne wouldn’t want to see the creatures come to harm, she is concerned about the effect they are having. “The otter has migrated from its normal habitat to back gardens”, she said. “And the otter will kill for fun so anyone who has a koi pond will need to take action to protect it before you get a visit because the consequences are just devastating.”

During the 1970s the survival of otters was threatened by a loss of habitats and they were rare in most parts of Britain.

But this native species was brought back from the brink of extinction and numbers have now recovered largely as a result of conservation work and improved water quality. There are now thought to be otters in every county in England, causing some concern that there are too many otters, putting native fish under threat.

However, Penny assured pond-owners that the otters wouldn’t hang around for long. “It won’t go on happening and they do tend to move on to other food sources,” she said. “It’s important to stress that the otters are protected under law so they best thing to do is to protect your pond until they move on.”

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