Multi-agency operation disrupts illegal shellfish harvesting on Southend coast

A multi-agency operation aimed at identifying and tackling the modern-day slavery issues surrounding illegal shellfish harvesting has culminated in over 288kg of illegally harvested shellfish being seized.

The Essex Police-led operation ran from August 12 – 16 and saw four partner agencies work together to highlight the dangers of illegal shellfish harvesting, to keep the shellfish market safe, and to ensure those responsible face appropriate action.

This operation follows on from a successful week-long operation in July which also saw 800kg of illegally harvested shellfish seized.

As part of the operation various tools and equipment were seized as evidence for any legal proceedings. In total, 71 shellfish harvesting tools were seized, varying from hammers and screwdrivers to plastic buckets and handheld rakes.

Essex Police’s Town Centre Team for Southend and the Marine Unit, Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority, Inshore Fisheries and Conservation Authority and the council’s Environmental Health team were the driving force behind the operation.

In total, 288kg of illegally harvested shellfish was seized across the week, which equates to an estimated retail price of £3,882. In addition to the seizure, 42 shellfish pickers were spoken to and enquiries are ongoing.

Cllr Martin Terry, cabinet member for community safety and customer contact at Southend Council, said: “We saw how successful the last operation was back in July and knew we had to strike while the iron is hot and push on with this crackdown. This excellent, collaborative work reiterates our zero-tolerance policy around illegal shellfish harvesting.

“It is possible that some of these pickers may be part of a wider criminal set up, where modern day slavery is rife, and many people rightly call for prosecutions. However, intercepting the pickers on site, disposing of their tools and seizing their hauls has a huge impact on the criminal organisations involved.

“As we continue to intercept the pickers on our shores, we make the area less ‘attractive’ to these organisations and potential pickers as they are losing money and time by not completing their work and could receive a criminal record.

“The health issues related to illegal shellfish harvesting are well documented. Without going through the appropriate stages of harvesting and purification, the product simply isn’t safe for human consumption. This shows a complete disregard for human life and puts profit before people.

“During the week, we saw harvesters out in the midst of an almost unbearable heatwave and then in a storm which was categorised as a threat to human life. They could so easily get caught up in the tide, yet the problem continues.

“This indicates that these people may be being exploited and we are fully committed to preventing this by working closely with Essex Police.”

Chief Insp Ian Hughes, Southend’s district commander said: ““We are continuing to take proactive steps to detect and disrupt those who come to our coast to illegally pick shellfish.

“Not only are they having stocks picked over many hours taken from them, they are also spending additional time with enforcement officers and they are having their tools seized.

“We hope this continues to send a message to pickers – many who may be victims of modern-day slavery – and organised crime groups, that if they come to Southend, they’re simply wasting their time.

For more information around shellfish harvesting, please visit www.southend.gov.uk/shellfish

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Mick Ferris

Editor Email: [email protected]