Police swoop on '60 Chinese harvesters' in cockle picking operation at Hill Head
AROUND 60 cockle pickers have been detained in a major operation.
Hampshire police, immigration officials, and the Inshore Fisheries and Conservation Authority, and anti-slavery officers were all at Hill Head today.
The operation was launched over fears of modern day slavery, environmental damage and concerns seafood from the Solent was being eaten despite a possible E. Coli risk.
Fareham Borough Council leader Councillor Sean Woodward, posting on Facebook, said: ‘A multi-agency operation is ongoing this morning and has rounded up about 60 Chinese harvesters. Police said around 40 have been spoken with so far, with others not detained.
‘We have present police, immigration, Inshore Fisheries and Conservation Authority, Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority, port health and Fareham Borough Council – currently processing everyone to establish if any offences have been committed.
‘We take this matter extremely seriously.’
Speaking to The News, he added: ‘We’ve been getting complaints now for weeks and weeks about large groups of people going down picking stuff out of the water, digging etc, fishing, for cockles and other things.
‘The law is a bit murky on it. You can do stuff for personal use but not for commercial.
‘It's where you draw the line and say a bucket of shellfish could be viewed as personal use, three tonnes most certainly can't.
‘Some of these people, there are 60 today, they're shifting vast quantities.’
He said there was a risk to cockle pickers, with at least 21 dying in February 2004 in the tragedy at Morecambe Bay, in the North West of England.
Cllr Woodward added: ‘There’s the modern day slavery and there's also the health issue that seafood from the Solent isn't something you want to be necessarily eating.
‘It’s not acceptable, this sort of behaviour and people don't like it. It’s damaging to the environment and there may be slavery issue.’
Today people have reacted with shock to the operation.
Responding to Cllr Woodward, Caroline Large said: 'I was at Hill Head when the police & other agencies turned up. There were approx 20 people collecting cockles and oysters, fewer than usual.’
Caroline Jackson added: ‘In Hamble too. Hundreds of oysters being shucked on the shore. Police now in attendance.’
In May last year The News revealed more than eight staff members from the Chinese Embassy were spotted scouring Hill Head beach arriving in cars with official Chinese diplomatic plates and Westminster parking permits.
The picking of oysters is restricted, with a closed season in effect from March 1 to October 31.
At the time the Chinese Embassy told this newspaper: ‘We understand several staff did visit the beach and picked some shellfish for fun, being unaware of any forbidden notice.