A FATHER and son have been fined for fishing for cockles in the Burry Inlet when it was closed for health reasons.
Brian Jones, aged 63, of Chapel Road, Crofty, and Ashley Jones, aged 36, of Penyrheol Farm, Blue Anchor, Penclawdd, changed their plea to guilty during the case at Swansea Magistrates Court today.
It emerged during the hearing that Swansea Council issued warning notices that the cockle beds had been closed from June 23, last year, over E.coli fears.
But despite the closures, the men were found with a tractor in the area and when questioned over their actions, they said they were “checking on the mortality of the cockles.”
They were found to have collected 18 bags of cockles from the area.
Sarah Thyer, legal executive of Swansea Council, said video footage was captured of people gathering cockles at the harvesting site, which is known for its heritage importance along with its European significance.
She said “no person (was) allowed to gather cockles commercially” when the E.coli issued emerged.
“The cockle beds were closed until they achieved the acceptable level,” she said.
“On June 23 there were public warnings, there were press releases put out on the council website and in the South Wales Evening Post.
“We had an anonymous report of potential illegal cockle gathering.”
She added: “The pair were on the sand for two hours, the tractor was stopped and they were questioned.
“None of their sacks were tagged.”
Ms Thyer said that after Ashley Jones was questioned he said he and his father were “checking on the mortality of the cockles” and added: “He was not aware the beds were closed for an E.coli issue.
“It was his first time on the estuary that year. Video footage was recorded.
“He admitted to helping his father to get cockles at the time in question.”
She revealed that Ashley Jones did not hold a licence to cockle in the area but that his father did.
“His dad did not tell his son of the closure of the beds and took the cockles back to the processing plant,” she said.
“The action had the potential to put public health at risk.”
During the case the court was told that the pair had no previous convictions and Brian Jones, who runs Selwyn Sea Food Company, had held a licence for 47 years.
The investigation was carried out by Swansea Council along with Natural Resources Wales and samples were taken from the cocklebeds to test.
But it was indicated both defendants “would have no way of determining whether the results were satisfactory or not.”
The cocklebeds were reopened the following morning after the offences were committed on July 14, 2016.
No application was made for the seizure of their equipment.
Stuart Ratti, defending, made clear Ashley Jones had no “involvement” in the running of Selwyn Sea Foods and that it was being run by Brian Jones and his wife.
He said Ashley Jones had been working away the preceding week before returning to Penclawdd on Friday, July 13.
Mr Ratti added: “He went with his father to view the condition of the cockles, who has held a licence for 47 years.
“Ashley was invited out (onto the sand) by his dad, he was wearing Armani jeans and Ralph Lauren shirt and had designer shoes on.
“He bitterly regrets going out now.
“Ashley feels he was in an impossible situation of helping his father, which he now regrets.
“He said he did not know that the beds were closed and that his father had not told him about it.
“When he went out onto the sands it was not to gather but he foolishly provided his father with some assistance.
“We are not trying to sugar coat that – it should not have happened.
“Sadly, he participated.”
Mr Ratti said there was “zero risk” of harm to the public when the cockles were gathered on the morning of July 14 as they “had been deemed safe” although the result was not available until the afternoon.
“The local authority notified the gatherers on the 15th (of July) and announced the bed closure had been lifted,” he added.
Mr Ratti made clear that “if the closure was not lifted he (Brian Jones) would not have used them,” as he runs one of the “best local cockling plants in the area.”
“Brian with much shame has to accept technically an offence was committed,” he said. “He accepts it should not have happened.”
He also underlined there was another prosecution case brought at the same time of the cockle bed closure being reviewed.
Mr Ratti said the commercial value of all the bags was more than £100.
“The quantity was very, very small,” he said. “There’s been issues over the state of the cockles for many, many years.
“The size of the cockles are diminishing and mortality rates are increasing.”
Barry Arnold, chairman of the bench, opted to fine Ashley Jones as he contravened a provision of the regulations and said he felt his “culpability is low.”
Ashley was fined a total of £1,789 – £259 for the offence, £30 victim surcharge and a £1,500 contribution towards prosecution costs.
Meanwhile, Brian Jones was fined £2,789 as Mr Arnold felt “the culpability is all down to you,” which was made up of three £416 fines for contravening a provision of the regulations, a £41 victim surcharge and £1,500 towards prosecution costs.