UK: Credit crunch cocklers risk lives on Sussex shores

Source of Article:

1:00pm Thursday 30th July 2009

By Samuel Underwood »

Foragers are risking their health trying to beat the credit crunch by hunting for shellfish on Sussex beaches.

Health officials fear people are visiting the shores to collect the creatures to save money - despite them not being safe enough to eat.

The alert came after gangs of workers were spotted on one town's beach harvesting cockles believed to be destined for diners' plates in restaurants.

Police, immigration officials and environmental health officers were called to the beach at Littlehampton where about 30 people were spotted picking cockles.

The men and women, several of whom turned out to be suspected illegal immigrants, were being ferried to and from the beach by minibus in an apparently commercial operation.

Paul Unsworth, the head of environmental health at Arun District Council, explained that while picking shellfish for your own consumption was not illegal, it was against the law to pick them commercially from coastlines which were not designated as clean enough to do so.

The Sussex coast does not have any seabeds considered clean enough for the harvesting of shellfish. The nearest are in Kent and Hampshire.

That means that none of the shellfish sold as traditional seafood fare in Sussex is actually from the county.

Mr Unsworth said: “If people want to take their chances picking shellfish from the beach it's up to them but for commercial purposes it is totally unacceptable and a total disregard for the health of others.”

He said that the Sussex coast was not deemed clean enough for safe shellfish consumption because of a number of polluting factors such as surface water run-off into the sea.

And he said that the council had also printed leaflets, translated into a number of languages including Mandarin, which it hands out to people seen picking shellfish on the beach to make them aware of the risks from salmonella, the norovirus and E. Coli, all of which can be present in the mollusk.

Shellfish such as cockles and mussels are filter feeders which catch small particles from the water around them to eat.

That means they also ingest bacteria, viruses and chemicals which build up in their bodies and can be harmful to humans if eaten raw or not properly cooked.

The shellfish legally sold in shops and restaurants have been harvested from accredited waters that are considered clean and have been purified in special holding tanks before they are sold.



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