Electricity used to illegally harvest razor clams

MARINE enforcement officers caught a Tenby man using electricity to fish for razor clams in Dale Bay, Haverfordwest Magistrates heard on Monday.

Zak Prior, 24, of Knowling Mead, Tenby, admitted using an un-named “Dory” style vessel to collect a quantity of razor clams exceeding eight kilograms, the legal limit for anyone who does not possess a special permit.

He also pleaded guilty to using an electric current to harvest the edible molluscs.

Although he was not present when the offences took place, as the owner of the open-topped speed boat, Anthony Walker, 52, of Lyndhurst Avenue, Broadmoor, Kilgetty, was jointly liable. He also pleaded guilty to both offences.

James Subbiani, prosecuting, explained to the court that it is illegal to fish using “explosives, poisons, stupefying substances, or electrical currents”.

He said that in 2008/2009, the Welsh government carried out a survey into the harvesting of razor clams using electricity. The survey discovered the method was so effective that if it was used commercially the razor clam population would be decimated.

Mr Subbiani said Walker had learnt the technique because he took part in the survey.

The court heard that on “at least” six occasions during the summer of 2012, a marine enforcement officer noticed a small, white boat in Dale bay, an area known to be rich in razor clams.

The vessel was seen operating with divers without displaying the “A” flag required by law.

The office observed “large quantities” of razor clams going on to the boat and electrical cables in the water.

On June 18, marine enforcement officers and a Dyfed Powys Police boat went to Dale Bay. They saw the white boat off Musselwick Point, with a diver handing up bags of what appeared to be razor clams. They also heard an engine.

As the officers approached, a male onboard the vessel was seen to disconnect two orange cables.

Around 90kg of razor clams – which have a market value of £3 per kilo - were found on the boat, along with all the equipment necessary for commercial clam diving. A large generator onboard was hot to the touch and officers discovered a long metal bar with an electrical connector. A device for putting an electrical current in to the sea bed, which fitted with the generator, was recovered from the water.

“Electrical current is put into the sea bed using probes,” said Mr Subbiani. “The clams don’t like it and come out. Collecting them is like taking candy from a baby. You just put them in a bag and bring them up.”

Prior initially denied using electricity and said the razor clams on the boat were used as bait. Walker denied all knowledge of the matter.

Gareth Lewis, defending, said Prior was in charge of the vessel and had used the equipment without specific instructions from Walker, who had given him permission to take the boat out on his own.

Mr Lewis said Prior told Walker he was going to go surveying in Dale Bay.

“Prior put the equipment on board, and thought he’d ‘just give it a go’,” said Mr Lewis. “He knew there was something dubious about doing it but he didn’t realise he would end up in court. He panicked when he saw the authorities’ boats coming and threw the equipment into the water.”

Mr Lewis said Walker recognised the equipment was his and should have been stored more securely.

Magistrates placed a forfeiture order on the equipment officers recovered. They fined Prior £1,000 and ordered him to pay £135 (half the commercial value of the catch found aboard) and a £100 victim surcharge.

Walker was fined a total of £3,617.24, including court costs, half the value of the catch and a victim surcharge.

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