Cleveland Police have carried out an operation to tackle gangs travelling to Teesside and harvesting cockles at Redcar Beach and South Gare.
Detectives say they were given intelligence about people visiting the area to harvest cockles and other shellfish. They discovered gangs of up to 40 people who had been attempting to remove undersized crab and lobster on a commercial scale.
Police said that although no arrests were made with regards to exploitation or human trafficking, the visibility of the operation was important.
Today’s multi-agency operation addressed both the public safety aspects of cockle-picking and the fact that historically it has been a pursuit of criminal gangs who are exploiting migrants from overseas.
Cleveland Police, the North East Specialist Operations Unit (NERSOU), the Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority (GLAA) and the North Eastern Inshore Fisheries and Conservation Authority shared information in response to reports of large groups of people travelling into the area and cockle-picking.
Our focus is on protecting the marine environment including ensuring shellfish is not removed below the minimum size and we can prosecute and sanction. It is a closed season for cockles and we haven’t issued a permit for the past 10 years as the stock levels are simply not sizeable enough to warrant it.
A family group has also been spoken to after they were found to be picking cockles to use in a commercial restaurant in the Northumbria area.
Authorities are reminding people that cockles found in the Redcar and Cleveland area are not fit for human consumption and eating them could cause severe illness. It could be potentially fatal for children.
Anyone who sees anything suspicious on their local beach is advised to contact police on 101.