Published: 12:11, 02 July 2020
| Updated: 13:55, 02 July 2020
A woman says she was attacked during a row with a group plundering a beach for crabs, cockles and other shellfish.
Villagers in Grain say they have had enough of visitors "raping and pillaging" at low tide and loading up boxes of creatures into their cars.
Becky Craggs says she was hit in the face by a man on Sunday afternoon after spotting a group "filling the boots of their cars" shortly after 12.30pm.
She and partner Russell are now trying to force a crackdown on laws to stop people raiding the rock pools on Grain amid similar reports on beaches on Sheppey last month.
Russell said: "It's an ongoing problem. People are coming out here and taking the crabs.
"One or two is not a problem and allowed by law. But they are taking boxes full and filling the boot of their cars up.
"We've heard they were told to put them back by the police in the morning.
"They kept saying they don't have to put them back and would if we could prove it."
When Becky approached the group and asked them to put their haul back into the water, she said they became "aggressive and confrontational".
She says one man "took a swipe" at her and a second failed to land another blow and while speaking to police on the phone.
The couple, of Chapel Road, Grain, have criticised police for not taking action about the assault and not doing anything to stop groups raiding the beach.
Russell said: "It's not sustainable and will have a knock-on effect on the ecosystem.
"Something needs to be done about it.
"It's a rape and pillage of the ecosystem. If you take away the breeding species you've got nothing.
"A lot of people are too scared to do anything about it. But because my partner has been hit, we've become the mouthpiece."
It is understood the group of about 10 people piled down to the beach on Sunday morning and brought children along.
But after seeing the volume of boxes being loaded into cars, they believe the fishing is being carried out with a commercial aim and items are entering the food chain.
Police started an investigation into Becky's claims but have not been able to identify suspects and say they are appealing for witnesses to come forward.
The force added responsibility for the alleged illegal fishing on the beach falls under the Inshore Fisheries and Conservation Authority (IFCA) as the enforcing agency.
The IFCA oversees the environmental impact of fishing and harvesting and overall fisheries sustainability for the Kent and Essex coastline which has a wide range of designated protective areas to help conserve marine life.
But Russell says he feels the law is "a grey area" due to different areas having different rules and specific byelaws about what can and can't be caught.
He is now trying to find out "where the buck stops" and has called on Rochester and Strood MP Kelly Tolhurst to investigate further.
Ms Tolhurst said she is "aware of the problems it is causing for the local village community" and is working to find out "what more can be done".
She confirmed the relevant authorities are investigating and has spoken with the Kent and Essex branch of the IFCA, which is based in Ramsgate. "I understand the IFCA are working with the Rural Police Taskforce to gather more evidence and to see what action they might be able to take," the MP said.
"I will continue to monitor this and update constituents with any further information. In the meantime, if it is safe to do so, members of the public can send more evidence, such as photos or vehicle registration numbers, to the police by calling 101."
She also encouraged residents to report incidents to the Kent and Essex IFCA at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Becky and Russell aim to raise a petition to parliament calling for tougher regulations and fines to be introduced.
It is feared the group has already moved to other parts of the shoreline in Kent after another incident in Sheerness in recent weeks.
"We want to get them to stop doing it and get our voices heard," Russell added. "We need people to be proactive with it like the police rather than passing the buck.
"It's getting to the point that nobody hears and doesn't care."
The IFCA confirmed it has been made aware of "several locations" where suspected illegal cockle harvesting has taken place in Kent and Essex.
Dominic Bailey, assistant chief inshore fisheries and conservation officer from the Kent and Essex IFCA, said: "Within the Kent and Essex IFCA District, there are byelaws and regulations in place which restrict the harvesting of Cockles to only those persons issued with a permit or licence by Kent and Essex IFCA.
"Harvesting of cockles without such a permit or licence is illegal.
"However, there are a number of areas of jurisdiction related to the general overarching issue of shellfish harvesting and we are working in partnership with all the relevant agencies to address this.
"Beach hand gathering is not in itself illegal, but there are a number of restrictions and requirements related to the harvesting of shellfish where that shellfish will enter the human food chain.
"These restrictions are primarily applied for public health reasons and include a requirement for regular testing of shellfish waters for the presence of toxin producing plankton as well as biotoxin monitoring of shellfish."
Mr Bailey added patrols have been carried out in partnership with police, licensing teams and local authorities in the past four weeks with many taking place on Sheppey. He said the patrols "try to understand what is being taken and where it is going".
The IFCA has seized and returned shellfish hauls to the water in cases where it is "not satisfied that it is being taken for personal consumption and where individuals are not complying with the minimum size measures and permit measures".
Mr Bailey said: "There are a variety of classified shellfish areas across both Kent and Essex, and these are in place for a number of different species such as oysters, cockles and clams – a varying number of which are found at each location.
"It's a rape and pillage of the ecosystem. If you take away the breeding species you've got nothing."
"However, the area from which the shellfish is harvested is only one aspect of ensuring that shellfish is safe to consume, how the harvested product is kept and processed is also critical in the safety of consuming shellfish."
Ward councillor for Hoo at Medway Council, Cllr Ron Sands (Ind), warned against the idea of "groups of vigilantes" attempting to stop beach harvesting saying it would likely prove "counter productive".
"But if with maybe the parish council's help and/or with help from Kent Police some form of beach patrol could be used to gather evidence of vehicles and logging personnel who are picking up shellfish in these great numbers, it might help in future prosecutions."
Cllr Sands encouraged "the next step forward for worried residents" to be helping with "intelligence gathering for Kent and Essex IFCA".
He added: "I think that increased police presence and visits from the IFCA would be a deterrent to these gangs of shellfish pickers who are picking clean Grain Beach and this of course will finally affect the seashore ecological balance."
The councillor said he understood most common crabs being taken from the beach were Greenshore Crabs which has not got any restrictions in place. But other types of species do have them including: Edible Crab, Spider Crab and the Velvet Swimming Crab.
Police spokesman James Walker said anyone with information about the incident involving the attack on the beach can call 01634 792209 quoting 46/109759/20. Alternatively contact Crimestoppers in Kent anonymously on 0800 555 111.