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We need new law to stop Thames Estuary oyster pickers
AN emergency byelaw could be introduced to stop London gangs descending on Southend to harvest oysters.
A cross-party group of councillors called for immediate action after the Echo photographed groups on the town’s beaches this summer.
Politicians claimed the pickers were putting the oysters into vans and sending them back to London to sell on.
However, Southend Council’s legal experts warned there was no proof the shellfish were being harvested commercially and a bylaw was unlikely to be approved by the Government.
Fisheries chiefs also argued reducing the number of oysters could actually be beneficial, as it would allow native species to return to the estuary.
But Independent councillor Martin Terry demanded more stringent rules.
He said: “It’s high time we did something to stop this.
“These oysters are being harvested on an industrial scale.”
Labour councillor David Norman added: “Organised gangs are coming down from London and taking these oysters.
“There is evidence aplenty for that.”
Pacific oysters – the species found in the estuary – can only be safely eaten if their environment is particularly clean.
However, while council officers admitted they had placed warning notices on the seafront to discourage pickers because of the dangers, they said they had no powers to stop the practice.
John Williams, the borough solicitor, said the only way of attempting to do so was to introduce a unique bylaw.
However, bylaws are unlikely to be approved unless they follow guidelines set down by Whitehall and, as this would be a unique bylaw, it would be unlikely to meet those guidelines.
Mr Williams also pointed out a bylaw could not be brought in if other authorities had the power to stop the pickers, but chose to turn a blind eye.
The Kent and Essex Inshore Fisheries Conservation Author-ity, which manages the coastal ecology, has told the council it does not want to place any restrictions on the harvesting because it would like the Pacific oyster to be “eliminated” from the estuary.
Mr Williams said: “We can certainly investigate the possibility of a bylaw, but I would stress I think it would be a major uphill battle to get it approved.”