ILLEGAL shellfish pickers were caught moments before raiding Canvey’s shoreline.

Councillor Michael Fuller, who represents Canvey Island North, spotted about six pickers, believed to be involved in modern day slavery, at about 10am Wednesday.

The group, who had set up at a jetty near to Chapman Sands Sailing Club, on Eastern Esplanade, were preparing to start oyster picking when they were disturbed by Mr Fuller.

The organised operation is one which plagues the south Essex shorelines, with illegally caught shellfish posing a serious risk to public health if not sterilised properly for the required six months.

Just last month £11,000 of illegally harvested shellfish were seized from pickers in Southend.

Mr Fuller said: “It was about 10am when I saw them setting up their equipment to start oyster picking – they had nets and buckets.

“This has been an ongoing problem. One of them had even climbed over a metal fence to get onto the private jetty, so I went over and explained what they were doing was illegal and they should go.

“They obviously were not very happy. I spoke to one guy who was in charge of the rest and was met with swearing and a bit of verbal abuse.

“After I rather forcefully explained the error of their ways, they cleared off in three cars.

“Someone did report later on that they had seen more turn up at the beach, but we’re not sure if it was the same group.”

Mr Fuller believes this serves as an important reminder that if ever anyone witnesses such activity, they should immediately report it to police.

He continued: “It’s sometimes hard to recognise whether they’re genuine fishermen who are just collecting worms or whether they’re part of a wider illegal organisation, but I’d always remind people they should report it even if it is just a suspicion.

“This can be dangerous to human health if they’re not sterilised properly and when they’re harvested they can damage the habitat. There are also obvious links to modern day slavery.

“We’ve had quite a few incidents of this going on, the police have attended and found large containers of shellfish and cockles which have then been confiscated. But it won’t be stopped if it’s not reported.”

Castle Point Council were contacted for comment.