‘Hidden crime’ of vulnerable groups used in illegal mass shellfish harvesting operations

Shellfish harvesting

By Jodie Nesling

A senior government investigator says the level of illegal mass shellfish harvesting cases on the Thanet coastline has risen over the past year, with lockdown playing a role due to the need for pickers to earn income and because restrictions made the activity more noticeable to residents.

Jennifer Baines has been with the Gangmasters Licence and Abuse Authority (GLAA) since it was established in 2005 and looks after a huge swathe of the UK coastline covering Portsmouth to Suffolk.

She said: “It’s notoriously a hidden crime. There are so many extremely vulnerable people who are living here illegally and are scared of being deported or fined. There are currently a number of Thanet cases that opened last year which are being investigated.”

Ms Baines knows the isle coastline intimately after growing up in east Kent and says her knowledge of the area is beneficial to investigations. She said: “I have grown up using the beaches and watching people gathering shellfish. It does help having that local knowledge compared to when I am say, investigating somewhere near Portsmouth.”

Shellfish collection is not illegal but there are rules associated with the activity

The organisation’s main aim is to keep people safe and prevent deaths. She said: “We have a duty of care for people – the tides are all very different, say from Botany Bay to Deal. When we have a case in somewhere like Camber I shudder because of the risks and knowing what happened in Morecambe Bay.”

Ms Baines says foraging is not the issue -and this is not illegal – but evidence overwhelmingly points to gang operations for mass harvesting which prey on those trafficked into the UK. Ms Baines explained: “We’re absolutely not saying that everyone that picks shellfish on the beaches is illegal and of course some are going to forage for their own needs but the intelligence is that many, especially of Chinese and Vietnamese origin, are travelling from up to 150 miles away to work here in Thanet – they are not local.”

Rather than supply the local restaurants and for personal needs shellfish is used on mass predominantly as a key ingredient  flavouring sauces or stocks. Since the Morecambe tragedy, where 26 cockle pickers died after they were cut off from the tide, commercial shellfish farming requires a licence.

The ramifications of Coronavirus have brought fresh challenges for the team who work alongside multiple agencies including police, councils and charities to safeguard victims. Ms Baines, who started work investigating benefit fraud which frequently linked to gangmasters, says vulnerable workers were perhaps without any income during the lockdown period and not receiving furlough or other benefits forcing them to take what was on offer. She said: “These issues are very hidden -especially if the victim can’t speak out as they are here illegally.”

Victims are trafficked to the UK on the promise of work and usually find themselves bound to their gangmasters – unable to speak the language and without income leaving them exceptionally vulnerable.

Modern slavery is a far reaching term for a number of abuses ranging from County Lines gang members, sex trafficking and the workplace. Charities such as The Medaille Trust which has a centre in Thanet work closely with the GLAA in helping to safeguard victims.


  1. So what’s new ? !. This has been going on for over 20 years to my knowledge. Winkles, whelks, oysters, crabs etc have been taken off Foreness point, sack upon sack. In around 2006 I did express my concern to the South Eastern fisheries authority and once again a few years later. I do not know if these were part of organised gangs, but they certainly did not like being challenged.

  2. Can we not be more interested in the mass harvesting of the foreshore wildlife rather than harping on about the rights of illegal immigrants who knew full wellwhat they were coming here for and that they were doing so illegally. Even better if when questioned they are founf to be here illegally they are returned to their country of origin wherever possible.

  3. well said LC i wish more people would speak common sense ! now wait for the tambourine bangers to start when they read our thoughts – and probably the thoughts of most people if we are honest !

    • It’s unlikely you give a flick for the foreshore wildlife and, as usual, are just using this as yet another another opportunity to have a dig at anybody who doesn’t fit your idea of racial purity. Aren’t you bored it yet? I certainly am.

  4. we are all entitled to an opinion , and to discuss it with others – its not communist china here yet – whoops was that racist ? wake up man.

  5. The problem here is that the foreshore should be a rich breeding ground for fish, and if the shellfish shrimp and worms they feed on is depleted our fisheries suffer badly.
    As a child the beach fishing off the North coast of Thanet was great till they cut off the main source of food for the crabs and shrimp- ie the sewage outlets, then the abundance of fish diminished rapidly to the point where fish are hard to come by.

  6. If you read the article/had an ounce of compassion – you would see that the norm in these cases is that the people forced into working don’t have a say in coming here, what they do or where they do it.. hence the ‘slavery’ and ‘trafficking’.
    LC and Realist reveal their true colours in what they say.
    And for context.. a person trafficked has done nothing wrong and seeking asylum is never illegal.
    But why let facts get in the way of prejudice, eh?

    • They are quite happy to come here, they know they have massive debts to pay off when they get here ( in this day and age they will have full knowledge of what happened to those that went before them) yet despite this they feel that the risks and costs are worth the benefits of leaving their home countries and coming here.
      They are exploited by their own countrymen , they’ll stay under the radar until they have a child and it reaches school age, they’ll register the child with a local school at that point they’re never going to be asked or forced to leave the UK.
      My views are that unfettered migration into the UK by whatever means is not good for the UK, however there is most certainly an obligation to help a portion of the globes asylum seekers and its beneficial to attract the worlds best and brightest to our shores., but both of these need to be via legal routes.
      I don’t discriminate , rather i differentiate between the honest and dishonest. I’ve worked all around the world , met good and bad in every place i’ve been it’s the only characteristic i’m interested in.

  7. and if we are honest the whole ” industry ” is money led – the traffickers are making fortunes , and the illegals are economic migrants working for cash in hand !

  8. Round of applause Sherill. Your comment perfectly highlights these morons being ignorant of all the facts, or at best, being just too thick to evaluate their impact fully.

  9. just face the facts , its clear to see . why dont they shut the shops in france that are selling 40 or more ribs , and hundreds of life jackets every week ? they are not running away from nothing – they are coming to for the hand outs. + they all look the same – young males ?

  10. But you haven’t posted any facts, Realist!
    Feel free to spend your next holiday in Eritrea, Syria, Afghanistan etc and tell me again that they’re running away from nothing.
    The UK takes relatively few asylum seekers (being a different thing to migrants, refugees and immigrantion) compared to other countries and most have very little say in where they end up..
    As a little exercise in compassion just picture what it would take for you to pack a bag – in one instance for yourself and in the other for your eldest child.. a small bag.. then leave your house with the knowledge you’ll never return and imagine then traveling to.. let’s say China overland..except that in order to get to France you hop in a little dingy what would it take for you to believe that this was your best option in life and preferable to staying where you are?
    That’s what people are facing.

    And it’s mostly young males as parents tend to pay for their eldest son to travel as it’s safer than their daughters doing this.. also most of the people arriving in the UK are fleeing warzones and it’s yoing men who are at the greatest risk of forced conscription.

    I work with asylum seekers and I can’t remember one whose intention was to just claim benefits (spoiler: benefits ain’t that much).. they all want to learn English, get some qualifications and get a job.
    The same can’t be said for some British people I’ve worked with.

    A little bit of compassion goes a long way.

  11. i notice they were not happy with their accomodation at folkstone ? it was good enough for the british army , we gave them asylum and they burnt it down , and as far as i know they were not charged with criminal damage and arson – as i and most others would have been ?

Comments are closed.