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Foreign gangs make millions from black market shellfish

Members of eastern European gangs are making more money by plundering razor clams from the seabed than from selling drugs, police say.

“The money, to organised crime and criminals, is significant. It makes more than drugs does. There are 80 known individuals engaged in this industry and the infrastructure of their organisations is very efficient,” he said.

“They have the boats, the appropriate gear that has been modified for this kind of fishing and trained divers. They have the vehicles to transport the catch and then the means to legitimise their product to be sold and then exported.”

An estimated 600 kilograms of illegally sourced razor clams are shipped each day from Glasgow via Singapore to supply the lucrative Asian shellfish market.

Foreign gangs

A legal boat using legitimate fishing methods usually recovers just one or two kilograms daily. Electrofishing, which was banned for widespread use by the European Union in 1998, uses cables to pump electrodes from an onboard generator to a “spreader bar”, which is swept along the seabed. The electricity stuns the clams and divers harvest them. It is used as an alternative to dredging, which damages shells and ruins the flesh.

The practice is highly dangerous and police confirmed there have been several deaths of workers in the past two years. Many of the divers are known to be of eastern European origin and issues of exploitation and human trafficking are being investigated.

Last week an unlicensed boat was stopped by maritime police off the west coast of Argyll under suspicion of being involved in electrofishing and inquiries are continuing.

UK consumption of razor clams has risen from 46 tonnes, worth £74,000, in 1995 to 903 tonnes, worth £2.5 million, in 2012.

Last year the celebrity chefs Tom Kitchin, who has appeared onMasterChef as a guest judge and mentor, and Andrew Fairlie, who runs the only restaurant with two Michelin stars in Scotland, wrote an open letter to the government urging stronger action.

Yesterday Mr Kitchin said: “I cannot find them anywhere — I’ve been putting it out on Twitter, harassing all my fishmongers, but no one can get razor clams for love nor money.”

Earlier this year the Scottish government brought in tougher licensing laws and punishments to deter poachers.

Exploiting wildlife for money

  • Deer poaching is one of the most widespread rural crimes in the UK, with an estimated 50,000 deer illegally killed each year. The market for stolen venison is thought to be worth about £5 million.
  • A network of gangs has been blamed for stealing carp from well-stocked ponds and lakes. A single carp can be sold on for up to £10,000 if it is likely to breed.
  • Hare coursers can make up to £10,000 a month through illegal betting on the outlawed pursuit of the animals by dogs.
  • There are still widespread reports of bird egg thefts across the UK. Most have little monetary value and are kept as “trophies” but they can still lead to six months in prison.

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