ANGRY fishermen have hit out at thieves who stole thousands of pounds worth of fish for their meat.
The specimen carp in Middleton St George Water Park, near Darlington, have been bred for catch and release sport angling.
At the weekend, anglers were horrified to discover the remains of three fish in the water.
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It is believed a speargun may have been used to catch the fish.
One of the fish was spawning and had been filleted.
It is thought the carp, which are considered a delicacy in Eastern Europe, had been targeted for as a food source.
Each fish was worth between £500 and £1,000 and weighed between 12lb and 20lb.
Police and anglers are appealing for information that might lead to the identification of the culprits.
Steven Whittaker, fisheries officer for Ferryhill and District Angling Club, which manages the pond, said: "We're all absolutely appalled. We think the fish have all been removed inhumanely.
"This has been going on for the past four or five weeks and we don't know exactly how many have been taken.
"This has been done by someone who knows what they're doing.
"We have a lot of people walking their dogs, so hopefully somebody might have seen something suspicious."
The Water Park, a former water pumping station, is leased to the angling club by parish council.
Local ward councillor and parish council chairwoman Doris Jones said: "I'm quite concerned by this.
"I've asked the police to support the baliffs in their work.
"It's an expensive theft and it looks like a speargun may have been used when the fish were in the shallow water.
"That's a dangerous weapon and we need to know who's doing this."
PC Becky Nichol is leading the investigation.
She said: "It's certainly an unusual theft.
"We have no idea who has done this, but we are appealing for witnesses."
Anyone with any information is asked to call police on 0845-60-60-365 or Mr Whittaker on 07784-315754.