Question rokitit Law

What Happens If You Catch a Sturgeon in the UK?

What happens if you catch a sturgeon in the UK? Does the queen always take it? What does she do with them all?

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Answer Expert #27241

Under British law, sturgeon are classified as a so-called ‘royal fish’, meaning they are considered to become the personal property of the current monarch under royal prerogative. This has been the case since 1324, when King Edward II enacted a statute requiring that all sturgeon and whales caught within three miles of the British coastline be offered to the monarch. Whilst deemed the personal property of the monarch, an appointed official (the ‘Receiver of the Wreck’) is responsible for receiving all the royal fish.

However, the monarch very rarely accepts such fish, especially where the fish may have another purpose, for instance being of educational or other use to another body. Instead, modern custom is for it to be offered to the Queen as a ‘gesture of loyalty’ with the typical response being that the fish’s finder/catcher may ‘dispose of it as they see fit’. The Receiver of the Wreck collects merely information about any sturgeon caught to convey to relevant scientific and educational bodies that may occasionally claim the fish in question. Practically, this is exceptional, as evidenced by the media attention surrounding any infrequent occasion in which a sturgeon is claimed. This is particularly due to the critically endangered state of sturgeon.

Nonetheless, the issue still arises, on occasion, in the British media. For instance, in 2004, a Welsh fisherman was subject to a criminal investigation following confusion over whether the sturgeon he caught had already been offered to Queen Elizabeth; subsequently possession of the sturgeon was relinquished to London’s Natural History Museum. Interestingly, the act of catching the fish itself is not illegal, nor is keeping one caught, but rather the sale of one that has not first been offered to the Queen first.

References

Case of Swans (1592) 77 Eng Rep, 435.
M Hale, The History of the Common Law of England and an Analysis of the Civil Part of the Law (6th edn, 1820, Butterworth) 197.
Marine Conservation Society, ‘Threatened Species’ accessed 27 October 2016.
BBC, ‘Police Enquiry Over Sturgeon Sale’ (3 June 2004) accessed 27 October 2016.