URGENT action is needed to stop modern slaves illegally harvesting shellfish from the Southend foreshore, MP Sir David Amess told the Commons.

Sir David pressed ministers for urgent intervention to stop a tragedy happening among those sent to pick cockles, winkles and oysters from the sea bed.

He spoke as Leigh fisherman Paul Gilson called for new powers to enable police to track where the shellfish is being sold and new licenses being issued to prevent further unlawful harvesting.

Sir David, MP for Southend West, told the Commons: “Thirty-nine people sadly lost their lives being trafficked into Essex.

“Activity is going on off the coast of Southend, illegally. I want to avoid another tragedy happening.

“I asked the Leader of the House, Jacob Rees-Mogg, for a debate on the illegal harvesting of shellfish. We must take action before this occurs.”

The plea for help came after police seized thousands of pounds worth of illegally caught shellfish in recent weeks, with senior figures at the force suggesting modern slavery is involved.

The most recent seizure saw £11,000 worth of shellfish, which included oysters, winkles and cockles, removed from the harvesters.

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Mr Gilson, said: “There needs to be some control.

“Police need to track down where it’s going, whether it’s Leicester or London. New licenses need to be given out which will help our fishermen fish for themselves, rather than just commercially

“It’s not just a Southend issue, it’s been happening across the country.

“We have regular contact with the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, so it’s good to see some progress has been made.

“Environmental health in Southend have been amazing, but they are clearly not listening and confiscation isn’t working.

“The threat to the industry and Southend is huge.”