Dangerous illegal fishing of Scottish shellfish is profiting eastern European criminals by up to £65,000 a day, police have claimed.
Divers working for organised crime gangs are running electrodes and probes from boats off the coast of Argyll to electrify the seabed, then scooping up the sought-after razor clams to sell to Asian markets.
Police warned divers’ lives are being put in danger and claim some criminals are making more money than through drug trafficking.
Detective Chief Inspector Calum Young, of Police Scotland’s L Division, which covers Argyll, Bute and West Dunbartonshire, said: “They have a generator on the boat and deploy electrodes and probes on to the seabed and run them along the seabed, 10-15 metres deep.
“The electricity stuns the razor clams and divers walk behind the boat scooping the clams up.
“Many of the divers are known to be of eastern European origin and there is concern that they are being exploited and their personal safety is in danger, because of the proximity of electricity in water.
“There is a major concern that we will be faced with fatalities in the waters off Argyll and Bute.”
It is estimated that illegally active fishing boats are taking 500-600kg of razor clams a day, making up to £65,000.
A legal boat might only recover 1-2kg a day through traditional catching methods.
The illegal hauls are shipped away within 24 hours.
Police said many go through Glasgow airport to Asian markets via Singapore.
DCI Young said: “The money to organised crime and criminals is significant. It makes more than drugs does. When these skippers are approached, they throw any evidence of electro-fishing over the side of the boat. We put our divers down to recover any evidence that there has been electro-fishing.”
It has been illegal since 1998 to use electro-fishing methods but, earlier this year, the Scottish Government brought in tougher licensing measures.
Police Scotland confirmed one boat had this month been stopped under suspicion of being involved in electro-fishing. Marine Scotland is conducting inquiries.
Last week, a multi-agency operation run from Oban, involving Police Scotland, Marine Scotland, Argyll and Bute Council and the Health and Safety Executive, clamped down on electro-fishing for razor clams.
In February, the local authority’s environmental health team intercepted a vehicle transporting 815kg of illegally harvested razor clams at Oban ferry terminal.