The ringleader of a long-running illegal poaching operation has avoided jail after stealing hundreds of salmon and trout over seven years.

Emlyn Rees, of Cenarth in Ceredigion, kept a detailed ledger of his illegal catches.

Over a seven-year period, 373 dated entries of fish capture were made detailing the number and weights of the fish caught, which included 989 sea trout and 302 salmon.

The illegal fishing undertaken by Rees and his associates between 2013 to 2020 has led to the loss of an estimated 686,534 salmon eggs and more than two million sea trout eggs.

On Friday, Swansea Crown Court ordered he will have £61,791.50 confiscated due to the financial gains he made from his crimes.

He was also fined £1,600 and ordered to pay court costs of £1,000.

But the court heard he was unable to pay, so made a nominal payment of only £1. If he comes into money or assets in the future, the remaining debt will be confiscated.

Rees, who had previously pleaded guilty to illegal fishing charges brought forward by Natural Resources Wales (NRW), will also have his fishing and netting equipment seized from him.

NRW said an investigation was triggered after its enforcement officers were patrolling a stretch of the River Teifi near Cenarth and found a gill net had been illegally set in the river.

While monitoring the area overnight, a person wearing dark clothing was seen retrieving the net at 5am.

That person was identified as Rees, someone already known to enforcement officers and who had three previous convictions for illegal fishing offences.

Although he fled the scene by jumping into the river, he was later arrested and his home was searched.

Ann Weedy, NRW’s mid Wales operations manager, said the operation’s impact was “staggering”.

She added: “The sheer scale of the number of fish caught has undoubtedly resulted in a significant and unsustainable loss of breeding potential.

“Since 2020, all salmon and large sea trout caught in Wales have to be returned alive to the river to help protect these vulnerable stocks.

“This case should stand as a warning to would-be offenders that we will pursue every case where there is evidence of wrongdoing, and if we can demonstrate that a significant financial gain has been made, we will look to confiscate that gain.”

Sergeant Esther Davies said the sting operation involved 25 police officers and nine NRW enforcement officers. It targeted seven properties in the Cardigan area, linked to people believed to be involved in illegally catching and obtaining salmon and sea trout, or sewin, on an unprecedented scale.

“Poaching has been a real issue on the River Teifi for many years, and I hope this investigation and the sentence handed down today strongly demonstrates our commitment to investigating wildlife crime and reassures our fishing and angling communities,” she added.