Angler confronts three Vietnamese restaurant workers for ‘illegally netting seabass on an industrial scale’ in Dorset – before they flee in a luxury 4×4 Range Rover

  • Steve Cullen discovered Vietnamese restaurant workers illegally fishing
  • They had netted 33lbs of sea bass in Poole Harbour, Dorset, despite a ban
  • Workers sped off in a car branded with the local restaurant’s logo
  • Owner of the business has since apologised for the incident on Facebook 

This is the moment an angler bravely confronts three Vietnamese restaurant workers he caught illegally netting sea bass fish on an industrial scale.

Steve Cullen was sleeping in his car on the quayside at 4am when one of the bungling group opened his door after mistaking his 4×4 for their own Range Rover parked nearby.

The 35-year-old woke to find the three men with a bucket full of bass they had just caught by dragging a huge gillnet across Poole Harbour, Dorset.

Mr Cullen challenged them and discovered they had caught about 33lbs of undersized bass worth hundreds of pounds.

Angler Steve Cullen was sleeping in his car at Poole Harbour when he was disturbed by a man trying to get into his vehicle, and then discovered three Vietnamese restaurant workers (pictured left and right) illegally netting sea bass 

Mr Cullen, pictured, said they had caught around 33lbs of sea bass, which is considered critically endangered, with a ban against recreational anglers catching them brought in earlier this year

Mr Cullen picked up the bucket of fish, pictured, and tipped it back into the sea

Sea bass, a fine eating fish, has seen a dramatic decline in numbers in recent years and is now considered critically endangered.

Recreational anglers have been banned from catching any bass for 2018 while commercial fishermen are limited to five tonnes a year and must have a licence.

It is also illegal to catch any bass under 37.5cm in length.

Despite being outnumbered, Mr Cullen saw red and tipped the bucket of fish back into the sea.

He also took video of the three men and their car, which had a logo for the Vietnamese restaurant Eat Pho emblazoned on the bonnet.

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The fishing authority, Southern Inshore Fisheries and Conservation Authority, has now launched an investigation into the incident that happened during the early hours of Sunday morning.

The restaurant has since issued a public apology on its Facebook page, claiming it was a one off incident and the workers only went out fishing for ‘entertainment’.

But people responded to this by pointing out the group had with them equipment usually used by commercial fishermen.

Mr Cullen, a burglar alarm fitter from Havant, Hampshire, said he was sleeping in Volkswagen Touran while he waited for the tide to come in before going out kayak fishing when he caught the gang.

He said: ‘I heard voices out on the water when I arrived and thought it was a bit strange but went to sleep.

During the video he can be heard challenging the men and asking ‘What’s this?’ as he inspected the fish

Mr Cullen then filmed the trio leaving in this car, which was branded with logo of a local Vietnamese restaurant Eat Pho

‘I woke up because one of them opened my car door. He said he had made a mistake and opened my door instead of his.

‘I then started trying to figure out what they were doing. They were putting the boat on their trailer but they still had the net and fish in the boat.

Why sea bass fishing is controlled 

Sea bass, a fine eating fish, has seen a dramatic decline in numbers in recent years and is now considered critically endangered.

Recreational anglers have been banned from catching any bass during 2018.

Commercial fishermen are limited to five tonnes a year and must have a licence.

It is also illegal to catch any bass under 14.5 ins in length.

‘I looked in the boat and saw a bucket full of bass. The fish were undersize, but even if they were legal size it’s illegal to keep bass this year, you can fish them but you have to throw them back.

‘They were using gillnets, which you string up across a channel of water and all the fish get trapped in it.

‘You need a licence to use gillnets, they’re used for mullet more than bass, but it’s not a nice way of doing it because you kill so much other stuff in it.

‘Bass is one of the most expensive fish to buy, it’s probably about £20-30 a kilo and they had about 15kg.

‘It was four o’clock in the morning and the men were from a local restaurant. To me it was obvious what they were doing.

‘They didn’t seem aggressive so I wasn’t really worried about confronting them on my own. I just saw red.’

The owner of the restaurant, who said his name was Ben, wrote an apology on its Facebook page taking responsibility for the incident and said he did not know about the ban

Pictured: The gillnet used by the men, which is strung across a channel of water to catch as many fish as possible

One local angler, Alan Cross, later commented on social media: ‘Thank you so much Steve, not many of us would have confronted them. You’re a hero.’

Ben Tran, the owner of Eat Pho in Bournemouth, issued an apology on the restaurant’s Facebook page.

Mr Tran said: ‘I would like to apologize for my actions which have offended the fishing community on social media in regard to fishing undersize bass.

‘I am not a fisherman, have no experience in fishing and honestly I was not aware of the ban while doing this.

‘It’s Bank Holiday weekend so I just decided to take our boat out after work with some friends, thinking to relax after a stressful few weeks.

‘If you ever visit our website or our restaurant, you would know that we have never served sea-bass. Our pure intention when going fishing is just for entertainment only.

‘We respect what the Government has been doing to protect our environment, and would never do anything to go against that.

The restaurant has been criticised online by anglers while an investigation has been launched by the local fisheries authority 

‘It’s my mistake in catching the fish without knowledge of the rules, and take full responsibility for what I have done.

‘I deeply apologize for my actions and will never fish again with any methods.’

But his statement prompted further criticism from anglers. Darren Dixon said: ‘Your catch was of commercial method and quantity which, in its own, is illegal, let alone keeping a protected species which has been very well publicized over the last four years.’

A spokesman for the Southern IFCA said: ‘We have reports of alleged illegal fishing in Poole Harbour.

‘An investigation was launched immediately. We are aware of reports and statements on social media and we have received a number of direct enquiries.

‘Following an appeal for witnesses by Southern IFCA, several people have come forward and they are assisting with enquiries at this time.

‘We are also working with our partners in Dorset Police in this process. We should like to thank those who have come forward with information and provide assurance that a full criminal investigation is being conducted.

‘The protection of bass stocks is a priority for the UK government and for the local Inshore Fisheries and Conservation Authority’s. Bass stocks are in a perilous state.’ 

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