Joint operation sees 800kg of illegally harvested shellfish seized in one week

July 8, 2020

A multi-agency operation aimed at identifying and tackling the modern-day slavery issues surrounding illegal shellfish harvesting has culminated in over 800kg of illegally harvested shellfish being seized.

The Essex Police-led operation – known as ‘Operation Gull’ – ran last week (29 June – 3 July) and saw five partner agencies work cohesively to highlight the dangers of illegal shellfish harvesting, to keep the shellfish market safe, and to ensure those responsible face appropriate action.

Essex Police (Southend Town Centre Unit and Marine Unit), Border Force, Justice and Care Organisation and the council’s environmental health team were the driving force behind the operation. In total, 810kg of illegally harvested shellfish was seized across the week, which equates to an estimated retail price of £11,000. In addition to the seizure, 29 shellfish pickers were spoken to about the risks involved with illegal harvesting.

Cllr Martin Terry, cabinet member for community safety and customer contact at Southend-on-Sea Borough 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 fishing economy 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.”

Sergeant James Mint, who leads Southend Police’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-on-Sea Borough Council and charity, Justice and Care Organisation.

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

For more information around shellfish harvesting, please visit


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