Rogue pickers selling bug-ridden Southend oysters to restaurants

Seized - Carl Robinson, a Southend Council officer, with an illegal oyster haul

Seized - Carl Robinson, a Southend Council officer, with an illegal oyster haul

First published in News by

UNTREATED oysters from Southend may be making it on to restaurant tables across the country, food health experts fear.

A nine-month investigation into the destination of shellfish harvested from Southend foreshore, funded by the Food Standards Agency, has cleared local restaurants and cafes of selling contaminated goods.

But some pickers, apparently working in groups, are shipping consignments to London and much further afield.

Elizabeth Georgeou, lead food officer, said: “A certain amount of oysters picked are going into London.

“We have an idea where they are going and we have contacted the relevant local authorities.

“Potentially, there might be patterns. We are starting to see that.

“There are different groups, several of which might be commercial, and they are not linked.

“We have tracked them quite a distance from Southend and the south east.

“Some of the groups are from south Essex. Someone has to knowwhat is produced there.

“They must have local knowledge of the mud and the tides.

“We are concerned it is commercial activity – that’s why we are investigating it.”

Environmental health officers have seized 1.6 tonnes of live shellfish, the majority of it oysters, from pickers leaving Southend’s foreshore in the past 12 months.

But the lawon harvesting shellfish is complex. It means officers’ powers to act are limited and most pickers are doing nothing wrong.

Anyone can take oysters from Southend foreshore for personal consumption because the beds are public, unlike those on the River Blackwater, for example.

However, pickers harvesting oysters for commercial purposes, such as selling them to restaurants, require a registration document from the London Port Health Authority.

Those without documentation could face a fine of up to £5,000, but the law fails to clarify what counts as personal consumption, leaving it up to a magistrate to decide.

Council officers challenge pickers landing large hauls and, faced with the prospect of persuading a magistrate their family consumes huge amounts of seafood, most give up the catch voluntarily.

Some concerned residents have reported “gangs” of pickers of East Asian heritage scouring the foreshore.

The 2004 Morecambe Bay cockling disaster, in which at least 21 Chinese illegal immigrants drowned during an incoming tide while picking cockles off the Lancashire/Cumbrian coast, may have fuelled concern for their welfare.

But half of the oysters seized have been from British Caucasian pickers and Ms Georgeou insists most of the “Chinese” pickers, many of whom are actually Vietnamese or Filipino, are individuals or family groups picking for personal consumption.

The only prosecution brought to court, which ended in an acquittal, was of a Caucasian fisherman from Leigh.

Ms Georgeou said: “Certain communities do eat oysters as part of their main diet, such as the Chinese community.

“We just need to make sure it is for personal consumption.”

Signs and environmental health officers offer pickers advice on the dangers of untreated oysters. Food Standards Agency research suggests three quarters of them contain the norovirus.

The beds west of Southend Pier have a B classification, meaning they must be sent to a purification plant, such as the Brandy Hole Oyster Company, in Hullbridge, or Maldon Oysters, before they are sold to be eaten raw.

Beds east of the pier are provisional C classification, meaning they must be relayed in beds of at least classification B for two months before then being sent for purification, making picking commercially unviable.

But if oysters are cooked, as in much Eastern cuisine, the purification process is less essential.

The council investigation aims to provide intelligence to the Food Standards Agency about what is being gathered and where it may be headed, rather than stopping people harvesting oysters from Southend.

Its work is only part of a wider study into the supply of oysters.

In fact, preventing large-scale oyster harvesting would be almost impossible, as anyone can obtain registration papers from the London Port Health Authority and could be counterproductive to learning where they all end up.

Officers ask pickers with large hauls where they are headed and record car registrations, passing the details to the Food Standards Agency and other local authorities to check if the consignments are going to restaurants.

Local authorities are responsible for enforcing legislation aimed at preventing an unfit product being placed on the market, which carries a penalty of up to £20,000.

The difficulty they face is the offence seems likely to be occurring across local authority boundaries, with untreated oysters picked in Southend being sold to restaurants elsewhere.

To stop this crime, which could be dangerous for the south Essex shellfish industry, as well as the customer, the various bodies must work together.

Martin Terry, Southend councillor responsible for public protection, said: “We have the largest cockle fishery in the UK in the borough.

“Should it get out that someone became ill after eating a Southend oyster, it could force the closure of our cockle industry, with the loss of many jobs – taking millions out of the local economy.”

The Food Standards Agency, which is co-ordinating the investigation, needs information from Southend Council to build up a complete picture of the supply chain.

But the authority’s resources are limited and the agency’s funding runs out in September.

 

LAW ON HAVESTING AT A GLANCE

*Anyone can legally collect oysters from Southend foreshore

*Oysters from Southend should be safe to eat if cooked well, but must be purified before being eaten live ! If pickers are harvesting oysters for commercial purposes they require a registration document from the London Port Health Authority 

* Live oysters must be treated at a purification plant before being supplied to a restaurant and reputable processors require the registration document 

* Selling untreated oysters to a restaurant is an offence that carries a fine of up to £20,000 ! Removing “shucked” or de-shelled oysters from Southend requires no documentation, but selling them would be an offence, so people removing of large quantities could face legal action 

* Prosecuting illegal oyster picking is the responsibility of the local authority, not police ! To report anyone, call the council on 01702 215000.

Comments (20)

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7:35am Mon 28 Jul 14

John Right says...

So they suddenly become poisonous when they are served on a table in London, ummmmm.
So they suddenly become poisonous when they are served on a table in London, ummmmm. John Right
  • Score: -3

8:33am Mon 28 Jul 14

Robin Reliant says...

how much longer will this carry on.? the public see pickers all the time, but seems passing council employees, the police and coastguard are totally blind to it, they could stop them like they did a few weeks back and send them packing, check everyday and stop them they will soon get the message, the answer is simple, but seems they can't see the wood from the trees,if its wrong act now of leave them alone.
how much longer will this carry on.? the public see pickers all the time, but seems passing council employees, the police and coastguard are totally blind to it, they could stop them like they did a few weeks back and send them packing, check everyday and stop them they will soon get the message, the answer is simple, but seems they can't see the wood from the trees,if its wrong act now of leave them alone. Robin Reliant
  • Score: 4

9:42am Mon 28 Jul 14

InTheKnowOk says...

Never did understand the fascination for this over priced slimy snot ...
Never did understand the fascination for this over priced slimy snot ... InTheKnowOk
  • Score: 1

9:48am Mon 28 Jul 14

Thames Gateway says...

An interesting and decent length article from the Echo - let's have a few more!
An interesting and decent length article from the Echo - let's have a few more! Thames Gateway
  • Score: 0

9:59am Mon 28 Jul 14

Robin Reliant says...

Possibly ending up in China Town soho, and in one sentence they tell us that they are contaminated, then further on they say they are ok if treated/preprepared right, so what is it.? if the Chinese are eating them raw there must be 1000's of food poisoning cases recorded over the last 10 years if they are that bad, as i recall at least 10 years this has been going on, have they thought of tailing the vehicles carrying all the oysters see where they go, employing a PI maybe, surely it don't take 9 months to do a study when it would take a few hours of good detective work to see where they are going.
Possibly ending up in China Town soho, and in one sentence they tell us that they are contaminated, then further on they say they are ok if treated/preprepared right, so what is it.? if the Chinese are eating them raw there must be 1000's of food poisoning cases recorded over the last 10 years if they are that bad, as i recall at least 10 years this has been going on, have they thought of tailing the vehicles carrying all the oysters see where they go, employing a PI maybe, surely it don't take 9 months to do a study when it would take a few hours of good detective work to see where they are going. Robin Reliant
  • Score: -1

10:14am Mon 28 Jul 14

Robin Reliant says...

and further more the headline says "Rogue pickers selling bug-ridden Southend oysters to restaurants", then goes on to saying 'Maybe', so which is it? after 9 months of investigating they have zero proof so whats with the headline, and theres more,

"“They must have local knowledge of the mud and the tides. "

yeah when the water is out go picking, when the water is in don't, save travelling times from London and look at the tide timetables online, thats good local knowledge that only locals would know.
and further more the headline says "Rogue pickers selling bug-ridden Southend oysters to restaurants", then goes on to saying 'Maybe', so which is it? after 9 months of investigating they have zero proof so whats with the headline, and theres more, "“They must have local knowledge of the mud and the tides. " yeah when the water is out go picking, when the water is in don't, save travelling times from London and look at the tide timetables online, thats good local knowledge that only locals would know. Robin Reliant
  • Score: 1

10:18am Mon 28 Jul 14

Nebs says...

The council could introduce and publicise guidelines for how many oysters it is reasonable to take for personal consumption.
The council could introduce and publicise guidelines for how many oysters it is reasonable to take for personal consumption. Nebs
  • Score: 2

10:42am Mon 28 Jul 14

The King of Southend says...

Interesting that the majority of oyster pickers suspected of commercial activity are white.
Interesting that the majority of oyster pickers suspected of commercial activity are white. The King of Southend
  • Score: 0

10:53am Mon 28 Jul 14

Howard Cháse says...

The problem will disappear as soon as all the mud/foreshore gets washed away.....
The problem will disappear as soon as all the mud/foreshore gets washed away..... Howard Cháse
  • Score: 0

10:58am Mon 28 Jul 14

Robin Reliant says...

The King of Southend wrote:
Interesting that the majority of oyster pickers suspected of commercial activity are white.
as in? i only seen Chinese picking and thats over the last 10 years, but they can also have white/pale skin, as they are not know for lying on the beach or going on sunbeds.
[quote][p][bold]The King of Southend[/bold] wrote: Interesting that the majority of oyster pickers suspected of commercial activity are white.[/p][/quote]as in? i only seen Chinese picking and thats over the last 10 years, but they can also have white/pale skin, as they are not know for lying on the beach or going on sunbeds. Robin Reliant
  • Score: 0

12:41pm Mon 28 Jul 14

DAGASMAN says...

Oh, the groups of chinese pickers that have been there everyday, from dawn til dusk for the last couple of years are only picking them to eat themselves? Funny how as soon as some white people have a go they are apprehended. Are the chinese pickers even here legally? Is oyster picking a skill the UK is in dire need of? Why do they refuse to take any kind of action in regards to the chinese pickers?
Oh, the groups of chinese pickers that have been there everyday, from dawn til dusk for the last couple of years are only picking them to eat themselves? Funny how as soon as some white people have a go they are apprehended. Are the chinese pickers even here legally? Is oyster picking a skill the UK is in dire need of? Why do they refuse to take any kind of action in regards to the chinese pickers? DAGASMAN
  • Score: 2

12:43pm Mon 28 Jul 14

DAGASMAN says...

The King of Southend wrote:
Interesting that the majority of oyster pickers suspected of commercial activity are white.
Because they wont question the chinese ones
[quote][p][bold]The King of Southend[/bold] wrote: Interesting that the majority of oyster pickers suspected of commercial activity are white.[/p][/quote]Because they wont question the chinese ones DAGASMAN
  • Score: 2

2:25pm Mon 28 Jul 14

John Right says...

What a complete waste of public money, these council urchins, should have better things to do, than to play Sherlock, in regards to a few sacks of barnacle clad shellfish, legally harvested, they have sought lame excuses for their "investigation" throwing it in the court of various London boroughs, to advise them, those boroughs would laugh, at this ridiculous time and money wasting exercise.
Southend Council have made a gigantic goof here, something they have a good history of doing, and are simply attempting to save face...
What a complete waste of public money, these council urchins, should have better things to do, than to play Sherlock, in regards to a few sacks of barnacle clad shellfish, legally harvested, they have sought lame excuses for their "investigation" throwing it in the court of various London boroughs, to advise them, those boroughs would laugh, at this ridiculous time and money wasting exercise. Southend Council have made a gigantic goof here, something they have a good history of doing, and are simply attempting to save face... John Right
  • Score: 4

3:37pm Mon 28 Jul 14

ThisYear says...

DAGASMAN wrote:
The King of Southend wrote:
Interesting that the majority of oyster pickers suspected of commercial activity are white.
Because they wont question the chinese ones
Oh give it a rest and go away you racist idiot!...Did I forget to add 'scum' ?
[quote][p][bold]DAGASMAN[/bold] wrote: [quote][p][bold]The King of Southend[/bold] wrote: Interesting that the majority of oyster pickers suspected of commercial activity are white.[/p][/quote]Because they wont question the chinese ones[/p][/quote]Oh give it a rest and go away you racist idiot!...Did I forget to add 'scum' ? ThisYear
  • Score: -4

3:39pm Mon 28 Jul 14

ThisYear says...

InTheKnowOk wrote:
Never did understand the fascination for this over priced slimy snot ...
Eat one and expel 80 times the weight of one..
[quote][p][bold]InTheKnowOk[/bold] wrote: Never did understand the fascination for this over priced slimy snot ...[/p][/quote]Eat one and expel 80 times the weight of one.. ThisYear
  • Score: -1

5:10pm Mon 28 Jul 14

DAGASMAN says...

ThisYear wrote:
DAGASMAN wrote:
The King of Southend wrote:
Interesting that the majority of oyster pickers suspected of commercial activity are white.
Because they wont question the chinese ones
Oh give it a rest and go away you racist idiot!...Did I forget to add 'scum' ?
You think pointing out that they apprehend locals who pick oysters but ignore the chinese people making a business out of it is "racist"? Well, i suppose your "education" consisted of kicking old gas canisters around campsites...
[quote][p][bold]ThisYear[/bold] wrote: [quote][p][bold]DAGASMAN[/bold] wrote: [quote][p][bold]The King of Southend[/bold] wrote: Interesting that the majority of oyster pickers suspected of commercial activity are white.[/p][/quote]Because they wont question the chinese ones[/p][/quote]Oh give it a rest and go away you racist idiot!...Did I forget to add 'scum' ?[/p][/quote]You think pointing out that they apprehend locals who pick oysters but ignore the chinese people making a business out of it is "racist"? Well, i suppose your "education" consisted of kicking old gas canisters around campsites... DAGASMAN
  • Score: 4

5:57pm Tue 29 Jul 14

Howard Cháse says...

Don't eat oysters picked when there's an R in rhe month.
Don't eat oysters picked when there's an R in rhe month. Howard Cháse
  • Score: -1

5:58pm Tue 29 Jul 14

Howard Cháse says...

Howard Cháse wrote:
Don't eat oysters picked when there's an R in rhe month.
When there's NOT an R in the month.

apols for omission.
[quote][p][bold]Howard Cháse[/bold] wrote: Don't eat oysters picked when there's an R in rhe month.[/p][/quote]When there's NOT an R in the month. apols for omission. Howard Cháse
  • Score: -1

11:30am Wed 30 Jul 14

Now listen for I have something to say says...

DAGASMAN wrote:
ThisYear wrote:
DAGASMAN wrote:
The King of Southend wrote:
Interesting that the majority of oyster pickers suspected of commercial activity are white.
Because they wont question the chinese ones
Oh give it a rest and go away you racist idiot!...Did I forget to add 'scum' ?
You think pointing out that they apprehend locals who pick oysters but ignore the chinese people making a business out of it is "racist"? Well, i suppose your "education" consisted of kicking old gas canisters around campsites...
Moronic bigoted idiot..
[quote][p][bold]DAGASMAN[/bold] wrote: [quote][p][bold]ThisYear[/bold] wrote: [quote][p][bold]DAGASMAN[/bold] wrote: [quote][p][bold]The King of Southend[/bold] wrote: Interesting that the majority of oyster pickers suspected of commercial activity are white.[/p][/quote]Because they wont question the chinese ones[/p][/quote]Oh give it a rest and go away you racist idiot!...Did I forget to add 'scum' ?[/p][/quote]You think pointing out that they apprehend locals who pick oysters but ignore the chinese people making a business out of it is "racist"? Well, i suppose your "education" consisted of kicking old gas canisters around campsites...[/p][/quote]Moronic bigoted idiot.. Now listen for I have something to say
  • Score: -1

7:12pm Wed 30 Jul 14

alarminstaller says...

This story is a good indication on the use of statistics.

Used in a certain way people can be classed as racist.

Used in a meaningless way "half of the Oyster pickets were British Caucasian"

Which actually means half were not British Caucasian which actually means that half is a lot in proportion.

In truth it is or it is not an offence if it is then either enforce the law or remove the law fron the statue book, and stop giving warning which are meaningless to people that will do anything to scratch a living together.
This story is a good indication on the use of statistics. Used in a certain way people can be classed as racist. Used in a meaningless way "half of the Oyster pickets were British Caucasian" Which actually means half were not British Caucasian which actually means that half is a lot in proportion. In truth it is or it is not an offence if it is then either enforce the law or remove the law fron the statue book, and stop giving warning which are meaningless to people that will do anything to scratch a living together. alarminstaller
  • Score: 1

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