Groups of up to 40 Asians have been spotted regularly working on Chalkwell beach. They have even been risking their lives in stormy conditions to collect the shellfish.
There are also concerns about the way they are removing the oysters and leaving sharp shells littering the beach. A number of bathers have cut their feet.For once, the newspaper description would appear not to be an attempt to obfuscate the ethnic origins of the suspects!
Oysters picked from the Thames Estuary need purifying before being sold as “fresh”, or there is a risk of food poisoning. Yet workers are opening the shells on the beach and keeping the meat in anything from empty cooking oil containers to ice cream cartons.
It is not clear where the delicacies are being taken or whose plates they end up on.A quick check of the Chinese takeaways should provide a clue!
You’d think the local council would be on them like a greyhound on a hare, wouldn’t you? You’d be wrong:
Peter Wexham, Southend Council Lib Dem councillor for Leigh ward, said: “The pickers go out at low tide in all weathers.
“Even in Sunday’s storms and squalls, they were out picking.
“Nobody knows if they’re illegal immigrants or not, but they are working for peanuts. It’s all a black market trade.
“They’ve been using plastic tubs which hold up to five gallons and they leave the broken shells behind.
“I’ve been on to the council to do something. The council, pier and foreshore and environmental health all refer you on to somebody else.”What a shocker…
His fears were echoed by Martin Terry, independent Southend councillor. He said: “I reported seeing some of these pickers a month ago. I’m angry about the inaction and bureaucractic nonsense, where the authorities say it’s not their responsibility.
“We had a problem previously with gang masters sending pickers from London.
"We cannot afford this risk to our fishing industry, jobs and local economy.”It is apparently legal to pick for your own consumption, though a license is required for commercial enterprises.
A fact that seems to be well known to the pickers themselves, who know just what to say:
Five Asian oyster pickers were harvesting along the shoreline yesterday, including a boy of about six. A teenage girl, who did not want to be identified, said: “We have come here for the day from central London to have fun and pick oysters.”
A man, said to be from the same family group, was seen wheeling a sack of oysters on a barrow. When asked what the oysters would be used, for the teenaged girl said: “We boil them for soup and food, but for ourselves only.”
Older members would not answer questions and indicated the younger ones should not divulge any further information.So it seems no-one will do anything. Until, of course, it's too late...