The GLAA, together with Dyfed-Powys Police, the Welsh Government Marine and Fisheries Division, Maritime and Coastguard Agency, Food Standards Agency, Natural Resources Wales and the Department for Work and Pensions conducted the operation at the Three Rivers Estuary, Carmarthenshire on Wednesday morning (23 October).
The assembled agencies checked gatherers’ permits and collected intelligence relating to any unlicensed gangmaster activity. Boats used by the fishermen were also examined in the operation to check they were seaworthy.
Ruled out modern slavery
Dyfed-Powys detective chief inspector Anthony Evans said the operation helped rule out any threat of modern slavery among the pickers and allowed the agencies to build trust and confidence with them.
“This is a lucrative trade, but it can also be very dangerous. Our aim with this operation was to be able to satisfy ourselves that there was no exploitation of workers taking place, and to safeguard them,” said Evans.
The cockle-picking industry has been a focal point in the battle against modern slavery in the UK since the Morecambe Bay cockling disaster in 2004, which saw 23 Chinese migrants drowned by an incoming tide while working illegally in the UK.
As GLAA head of compliance Martin Jones stated: “The GLAA was created almost 15 years ago in response to a tragedy involving cockle pickers and we are determined to do everything possible to prevent another tragedy like that ever happening again.
Protecting vulnerable workers
“Multi-agency operations like this are productive as each organisation can use its own legislation and expertise to check that the regulations and standards are being maintained. Only by working in partnership can we fully ensure compliance and protect vulnerable workers.”
The GLAA’s latest operation in Wales comes three years after two men received suspended prison sentences for illegal shellfish gathering, following an investigation by North Wales Police and the Gangmasters Licensing Authority (the GLAA’s previous name).
Meanwhile, in August, the GLAA called for contributions to its consultation on new proposals to protect workers across the supply chain from exploitation.