POLICE caught a group of suspected illegal oyster pickers red-handed after the gang were seen loading the back of a jeep with hundreds picked from the seafront.
Officers swooped on the silver Honda 4x4 on Western Esplanade, near the Genting Club in Westcliff, after concerned members of the public called police.
Two police cars stopped the jeep from leaving and officers ordered the haul to be put back in the sea.
No arrests were made, but the incident has highlighted growing concerns about oyster picking on the seafront.
Low tide: Picker still on the shore
A 43-year-old man, who watched the incident unfold, said: “I was shocked to see people doing it so brazenly.
They were just filling up the back of the car in broad daylight.
They had the door open as if they wanted to go, but they were waiting for a woman who was still picking way out on the shore. Then the police turned up.”
A police spokeswoman said: “Police officers on patrol in Southend were alerted by a member of the public to a group of two men and a woman who appeared to have several bags of oysters.
“Officers spoke to the group and checked to see if the items were for individual consumption.
We will be liaising with Southend Council.”
Caught: Police move on the oyster pickers
Siezed: shelled oysters confiscatred by the council in May and (below) in February
The police waited at the scene for about 20 minutes until another woman, who was still visible far out on the foreshore collecting cockles, was encouraged to return with her filled bags.
The police spokeswoman said no arrests were made after they agreed to return the oysters and the actions of the group were followed by CCTV operators.
The group was one of a number of people seen the same evening who appeared to be picking shellfish on the shore between Chalkwell and Eastern Esplanade.
Dipti Patel, council head of public protection, said: “We have been liaising with Essex Police about this incident and will be investigating the information they have given us.”