While most would not immediately associate cockles, scallops and sea snails with illegal fishing and organised crime syndicates, in reality the illegal trade in shellfish is a multi-million dollar black market industry, providing organised crime groups with a lucrative income stream while threatening species, coastal biodiversity and human health.
Along the west coast of Scotland it is estimated that illegal razor clam harvesting turns in bigger profits for criminals that the cocaine they traditionally sell. In South Africa, the abalone trade has decimated populations of abalone and the illegal harvesting efforts has been linked directly with drug smuggling operations and the use of violence to secure access to the harvesting areas.
The Black Fish is working with enforcement agencies and civil organisations to investigate the illegal shellfish trade and where strong evidence emerges, work with authorities to secure prosecutions of those involved.
Shellfish populations the world over are under threat from over-harvesting. In those areas where conservation laws or policies have been put in place, enforcement officials often have limited resources to tackle the scale of the illegal harvesting problem. Furthermore, because shellfish species are often slow to mature, over-harvesting quickly puts those species under threat.
Legitimate sources of shellfish are subject to strict testing and purification treatments due to the high risk of E.coli, novovirus or salmonella outbreaks. Illegally harvested shellfish will not be checked or treated in the same way, with serious health risks to oblivious consumers as a result. Read more about the human health risk of illegal shellfish in this article by The Ecologist.
In recent years ‘gangmasters’ (those supplying seasonal work in Britain) have increasingly exploited illegal migrants in their work force, with growing concerns over the safety of such undocumented workers. In one case in Scotland an Eastern European criminal gang was found using electric rods along the seabed to collect razor clams, with serious electrocution risk to the divers involved.
The black trade in shellfish is increasingly linked to organised crime groups, with high levels of organisation involved in the harvesting process. People acting as spotters, boats with dredging equipment and 4×4 vehicles are all used in an effort to reach otherwise inaccessible areas and evade law enforcement where possible. Read more in this article by the Daily Mail.
The species most threatened by illegal harvesting
What we are doing about it
The Black Fish is working, through partnerships with local authorities, enforcement agencies and other conservation organisations, to track the scale of the illegal shellfish trade. Initiating field investigations run by civilian observers, better known as Citizen Inspectors, The Black Fish can monitor coastal areas from land, air and sea and obtain the evidence necessary to prosecute those involved in the illegal trade.
With growing awareness and support The Black Fish realises structural surveillance, bringing better protection to affected coastal areas while strengthening local people and conservation authorities in their efforts to tackle the shellfish black trade.