Fisherman fined thousands of pounds for illegally harvesting Cornish clams

  • Video report by Charlotte Gay

A group of fishermen have been fined thousands of pounds for using illegal electric currents to harvest tonnes of clams off the Cornish coast.

Enforcement officers had been tracking the organised group across multiple vessels since 2018, boarding boats to find crews repeatedly denying they were doing anything illegal -until eventually they all pleaded guilty in court.

Daniel Turner, from Kent, and his associates gathered large numbers of razor clams, selling them to Scottish shellfish merchants who supplied traders in China and Hong Kong.

The Cornwall Inshore Fisheries and Conservation Authority (IFCA) has spent the last five years on a "long and complex" investigation into Daniel Turner Marine and Forestry Ltd.

The 41-year-old criminal from Wittersham worked with fishermen from St Buryan, Bodmin, Paul, Scotland, Kent and Dorset, across five vessels off the Cornish coast.

One of the boats was bought and used by the then serving Cornwall IFCA member, David Thomasson.

With initial fines and costs of over £28,750, the sentence of the main defendant will come in September.

Simon Cadman, Principal Enforcement Officer from Cornwall IFCA told ITV West Country: "We witnessed bags of razor clams being lifted up from the seabed sometimes at intervals of around about every seven minutes.

Simon Cadman, Principal Enforcement Officer from Cornwall IFCA said they were well rehearsed in how they disguised what they had been doing.

"It's possible that two tonnes from a nights work would be worth £20,000.

"They were well rehearsed in how they disguised what they had been doing - when we went aboard quite often the electrical generators were hidden in the boats, under the deck, in spaces perhaps even underneath boards that were screwed down so very difficult to find."

Ben Griffiths, a recreational clam fisher, said: "They're wiping out a whole flock of them.

"When you're doing one or two there's going to be more, it's just the way they're doing it unfortunately there are going to be ramifications from that for the recreational forager."

How does electro-fishing work?

Electro-fishing for razor clams uses generators, connected by cable to electrodes towed behind the boat, to send an electrical current to the seabed.

The current causes the razor clams to pop out of their burrows and a diver following the vessel can then gather the animals by hand in large numbers.

This way of fishing is more efficient than hand-gathering alone, but it can deplete the razor clam population of an area very quickly.

Electro-fishing is banned in European and UK waters, under EU legislation which has been adopted by the UK.

Razor clams landed in bulk were a valuable food commodity, with many exported to East Asia where there was demand for the product.

The first sale price for whole razor clams was generally between £6 and £10 per kilo, so regular fishing trips with landings ranging from few hundred kilos to a couple of tonnes made the illegal enterprise very profitable.

An example of the electro-fishing equipment Turner used. Credit: Cornwall IFCA

IFCA try to catch Turner red-handed

The vessels used by Mr Turner were observed, boarded and inspected on numerous occasions from the summer of 2018 through to January 2020.

IFCA officers would find razor clams aboard the vessels at sea, but whenever they approached them, Turner and his men quickly disconnected the electrodes and dropped them on the seabed.

Officers on the shore had to use video and infra-red cameras to record evidence of hot electricity generators and the use of an electrical array.

When the shore-based observations were made at the same time as officers approached an electro-fishing boat, they could see how the array was disconnected.

When the IFCA officers boarded Turner's vessels, he and his crew spun well-rehearsed lies explaining their fishing and the quantities of razor clams retained on board.

But, in January 2020, three people on a black rigid inflatable boat (RIB) belonging to Turner were electro-fishing in Falmouth Bay.

IFCA officers saw the boat, approached it and hopped aboard. The crew had already cast off the electrical array, but using a remotely operated vehicle (ROV), the officers found the array and seized it.

Court proceedings were already underway against Turner and others, but one crewman, David Ellis, 46, from Millbrook, Cornwall, was prosecuted separately at Plymouth District Magistrates Court on 9 March 2022.

He pleaded guilty, received an 18 month conditional discharge and was ordered to pay £600 costs.

As with many of the people who worked on Turner’s vessels, he had lied to officers about his identity and address.

A private investigator helped officers trace him and others, so that a court summons could be successfully served.

Turner and others eventually plead guilty in court

After more than three years of court proceedings, on 18 May 2023 Turner and his company finally pleaded guilty to the charges against him.

He joined nine other defendants who over recent months had changed their initial not guilty pleas, to guilty pleas.

Another suspect, who had to be dealt with separately, immediately pleaded guilty in court in 2021.

On 26 June 2023 at Truro Crown Court, Judge Carr handed down sentences to the majority of defendants.

Two sentences for Turner and his company have been delayed until September, allowing time for their financial details to be presented to the court for the potential confiscation of assets gained by criminality.

Truro Crown Court.

The defendants sentenced on the 26 June 2023 were:

  • Luke Anderson, 44, of St Margaret's at Cliffe, Kent: Total fines of £3,000, plus costs of £3,000

  • Marc Drew, 50, of Mousehole, Cornwall: Fine £3,500 and costs of £2,000

  • Graeme Etheridge, 61, of Paul, Cornwall: Fines of £3,750 and costs of £2,500

  • David Thomasson, 52 of Bodmin, Cornwall: Fines of £5,500 and costs of £2,500

  • Ross Waters, 47, of St Buryan, Cornwall Fine: £1,000 and costs of £2,000

  • A further defendant, Jake Richardson, 26, of Bedminster, Dorset was ordered to attend court for sentencing but did not attend and so an arrest warrant for him has been issued.

Steven Corcoran, 46, of Motherwell, Scotland and Simon Tester, 52, of Canterbury, Kent, previously pleaded guilty and received conditional discharges.

The Cornwall IFCA said the proceedings against Turner and his associates were "by far the largest and most complex investigation" it had ever undertaken.

Incredibly, the day before a court appearance for fishing from one of Mr Turner's vessels, David Thomasson - an IFCA member - was discovered electro-fishing again with another of the defendants who had set up their own company.

Mr Thomasson was an MMO-appointed member of the Committee that oversees Cornwall IFCA.

He was immediately suspended from the authority and is no longer a serving member.

The Cornwall IFCA also found offences in respect of fishing vessel licenses, food hygiene regulations, crew and vessel safety regulations and the transfer of criminal property.

It prosecuted these additional offences at the same time as the fishing offences.

The IFCA said that Turner took a belligerent attitude towards its officers who had been involved in the investigations which deprived him of some of his property.

They experienced goading and intimidatory behaviour which led to the police being called.

The IFCA added that Turner's behaviour was the worst they had ever experienced.

The full list of counts on the indictments were as follows:

  • Transferring criminal property, contrary to the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002.

  • Fishing using electrical current, contrary to Council Regulation (EC) No.850/98 and Council Regulation (EU) No.2019/1241.

  • Gathering bivalve molluscs, contrary to Food Safety and Hygiene (England) Regulations 2013.

  • Carrying and deploying electrical equipment, contrary to a Scottish fishing licence condition.

  • Fishing for razor clams, contrary to a Scottish fishing licence condition.

  • Failing to submit FISH1 landing declaration, contrary to a Scottish fishing licence condition.

  • Failing to comply with a relevant fishing vessel code of practice, contrary to the Fishing Vessel (Code of Practice) Regulations 2017.

  • Employing a person who went to sea without completing a required training course, contrary to the Fishing Vessel (Safety Training) Regulations 1989.

  • Employing a person who went to sea as a skipper without completing a required training course, contrary to the Fishing Vessel (Safety Training) Regulations 1989.

  • Aiding and abetting a company to use an unlicensed fishing vessel, contrary to the Accessories and Abettors Act 1861.

  • Failing to comply with a requirement to provide a name and address, contrary to the Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009.

Simon Cadman, Cornwall IFCA’s Principal Enforcement Officer said: "Following five years of long and complex investigations and legal proceedings, it is extremely pleasing that our clear and extensive evidence of illegal fishing and other related offences has resulted in court convictions for everyone we had prosecuted.

"This can be put down to the tenacity of many Cornwall IFCA officers who were involved in the investigations, together with assistance from a number of other authorities and individuals for which the authority is very grateful.

"I feel certain that if Cornwall IFCA had not pursued its concentrated investigations in the way that it did, electro-fishing would have become a serious threat to inshore shellfish fisheries here and elsewhere in England.

"The sentencing this month of the people who worked aboard Turner’s vessels is a welcome step in concluding the matters but there is still the sentencing for Turner and his company expected in September.

"I hope that having demonstrated our ability to conduct a complex and high level of investigation, plus our determination to ensure the delivery of appropriate punishments for deliberate illegal fishing, this will deter anyone else who may consider operating in such a way within the Cornwall IFCA district."