An otter has drowned after getting caught up in an illegal crayfish trap by the Selby Canal.
The trap was found on an angling platform at a fishing peg on the canal just outside Selby. It was discovered by a member of the public who reported the find to the police and the Environment Agency.
It is believed that the illegal net was being used to catch crayfish. Although crayfish traps are widely available, permission from the Environment Agency is needed to set the traps legally.
Approval would only ever be given if the traps conformed to strict size dimensions and had an otter guard fitted to prevent the animal getting into the trap, according to the government agency.
Fisheries officers have recovered the body of the dead otter, which will now be sent off for analysis.
Ian Marshall, biodiversity officer at the Environment Agency said: “Otters are protected by law and killing them could result in a fine of up to £5,000 or six months in prison. Their return to our rivers is an environmental success story and we do a lot of work to encourage their recovery.
“Anyone wanting to trap crayfish must have the relevant permits from the Environment Agency. Just because a trap is marketed for crayfish use does not mean it is of a legal design.
“Otter guards can be fitted to non-legal traps to prevent tragedies like this happening again.”
According to the Environment Agency, otter populations have begun to expand across the country following a decline in numbers between the 1950s and 1980s.
The return of otters to our rivers reflects improvements in river habitats and water quality, which are now at their healthiest for more than 20 years. Otters are legally protected as their numbers are still recovering.
Illegal traps can be reported to the Environment Agency’s incident hotline on 0800 80 70 60.