Shellfish picker gangs have returned to Redcar to harvest seafood on what is feared is taking place on a ‘commercial scale.’
Patrols have been stepped up and warning notices placed around the area along the seafront in English, Chinese and Thai languages after large groups of people have been spotted working in the area.
Investigators from the Gangmaster and Labor Abuse Authority, an organization which works in partnership with a number of UK authorities to protect vulnerable and exploited workers, are behind the move. They say a group of 10 Chinese people were stopped and questioned on Monday morning in Redcar – and a number of others have been spotted in recent weeks.
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As yet, there is no evidence the workers are being exploited, say the GLAA, who are closely monitoring the situation. But there are fears over the dangers workers might be putting themselves in along the coast, worries they are stripping the shellfish beds bare in the Redcar area which has already been hit by a mass crab and lobster die off as well as fears they are collecting shellfish unfit for human consumption for use in restaurants and takeaways.
Organized shellfish harvesting must comply with food hygiene regulations, it is also a criminal offense to operate without a GLAA license. It is also illegal to supply certain types of shellfish to food businesses for human consumption.
There is evidence the groups are traveling to the North East from areas including Manchester and Sheffield, said the GLAA’s Steve Buckton who is monitoring the area from Filey in North Yorkshire to Berwick in Northumberland, including Teesside. “The worry is they are collecting on a commercial scale,” said Steve. “They are traveling from all over the UK, including from Manchester and Sheffield and multi agency monitoring is in place along the North East coast.
“We have no evidence to suggest they are being exploited and we know in Chinese culture, for example, it can be for personal use but the amounts they are bringing off suggest it is not for personal use. The worry is that it is for restaurants. or takeaways. Last year there was harvesting on a commercial scale. “
Intelligence suggests the groups seem to be predominantly Chinese speakers, says Steve, and picking activity steps up around high tide times when more shellfish are left on the beaches, he said. Local fishermen are also concerned that shellfish beds are being stripped, he added. Increased monitoring will take place during the next expected tides around June 15 and 16.
The GLAA was set up following the Morecambe Bay cockling tragedy in 2004 when at least 21 Chinese illegal immigrant workers drowned in an incoming tide after picking cockles off the Lancashire coast. In 2020, an operation swung into action on the Teesside coast to tackle gangs traveling to Teesside and harvesting cockles on Redcar beach and at South Gare. Fisheries officers from North Eastern Inshore Fisheries and Conservation Authority carried out enforcement work with large gangs of up to 40 people who had been attempting to remove undersized crabs and lobsters on a commercial scale.
Last September, a four-day investigation took place also targeting illegal shellfish gathering in the region. Enforcement teams from the GLAA visited Redcar and Filey to challenge those suspected of gathering shellfish illegally or controlling workers without a GLAA license. Investigators found potential risks to the pickers from inappropriate clothing and a lack of awareness of unpredictable incoming tides, hazardous rock pools and exposed cliffs. Public health and food safety concerns from shellfish, crabs and lobsters unfit for human consumption entering the food chain was also an issue. Several people were spoken to across the four days of action and one individual was interviewed under caution by GLAA officers at Redcar.