An English Oyster Problem

Seized - Carl Robinson, a Southend Council officer, with an illegal oyster haul. From Southend Standard

Seized - Carl Robinson, a Southend Council officer, with an illegal oyster haul. From Southend Standard

Most folks were pretty amazed to read about international oyster thievery, as I reported in May in Modern Farmer. Truth is, oyster poaching is more damn prevalent than you'd ever think. Here's an interesting story from the United Kingdom last month on the subject:

In the Southend and Essex area of England, a coastal stretch at the mouth of the River Thames, due east of London, oyster thievery is a problem, perhaps due mostly to not-so-stringent regulations that allow for personal consumption picking, but have not-too-dissimilar rules for commercial picking. Telling who's picking for their home and who's picking to sell isn't easy, this story reports, and seems fraught with race. If you click through, those poor Englishmen can't tell the difference between Chinese and Vietnamese. But it's the natives who are stealing.

If you plan to sell oysters for public consumption, meaning picked to sell to restaurants, the bivalves must spend time at a purification plant, which, from what I found in this Guardian article, means soaking in clean water for 48 hours before human consumption.

From what I can tell, oyster poaching results in much stiffer fines than what you'll find here in the U.S., where a couple of bushels, in some locales, of stolen oysters from public lands will net, maybe, a $500 slap on the wrist.

...Preventing large-scale oyster harvesting would be almost impossible, as anyone can obtain registration papers from the London Port Health Authority and could be counterproductive to learning where they all end up.

Officers ask pickers with large hauls where they are headed and record car registrations, passing the details to the Food Standards Agency and other local authorities to check if the consignments are going to restaurants.

Local authorities are responsible for enforcing legislation aimed at preventing an unfit product being placed on the market, which carries a penalty of up to £20,000.