Thousands of pounds of illegally harvested shellfish has now been seized, after a week-long operation from Essex Police.

During the operation, which aimed to crack down on illegal harvesting of shellfish off Southend’s coastline, over 810kg was seized from pickers.

Around 29 pickers were spoken to and shellfish with a value totalling £11,000 was taken from them. Oysters, winkles and cockles, have all been seized.

The crackdown comes after Southend’s Town Centre Team and the Essex Police Marine Unit worked in partnership with Southend Council’s Environmental Health Team, Border Force and Justice and Care Organisation to take action against those engaging in this type of activity.

Teams have been working closely to highlight the dangers of illegally harvesting shellfish, to keep the shellfish market safe and to ensure those responsible face appropriate action.

Sergeant James Mint, who leads Southend’s Town Centre Team, said: “Many thousands of pounds worth of illegal harvested shellfish, including oysters, winkles and cockles, have been seized from pickers.

“Taking this action ensures that shellfish posing a health risk to locals and visitors has been removed from our communities.

“Just a single case of a person becoming poorly by digesting this food could cause many reputable companies to close.

“I must stress that the operation was not just about enforcement and we believe this crime type to have links to organised crime groups and modern day slavery. 

“Many of the people we spoke to needed additional support from Southend Council and charity, Justice and Care Organisation.

“I would like to thank our partners for their help in making the operation a success.”

Councillor Martin Terry, cabinet member for community safety and customer contact at Southend Council, said: “We have been working on this operation with our partners and have seen incredible results.

“This excellent, collaborative work has seen over £11,000 worth of shellfish seized. 

“That’s £11,000 that would have otherwise been taken out of the local fishingeconomy in just one week. If that was to continue every week over a four-month period, we’re looking at £160,000 worth of unfit food going out for consumption and out of the local economy.

“The health issues related to illegal shellfish harvesting have been well documented – without going through the appropriate stages of harvesting, the product simply isn’t safe for human consumption, and given the current problems we are facing with public health globally because of the pandemic, it shows a complete disregard for human safety.

“On top of the health problems, there are deep-rooted, modern-day slavery issues with harvesting.

"During the week, we saw harvesters out in high winds and heavy rain. They could so easily get caught up in the tide, yet the problem continues. This points towards workers being forced out, and this is something we are fully committed to preventing, and we’re working closely with Essex Police to deal with this.”