SEVEN men have been found guilty of illegal cockling in the Burry Inlet.
Edward Francis, 63, of Station Road, Llanmorlais, Jack George, 22, of Pencaerfenni Lane, Crofty, Barry Johnston, 32, and Kerry Johnson, 55, both of Culfor Road, Loughor, Jack Lewis, 21, of Pencaerfenni Park, Crofty, Adrian Stapleton Jones, 43, of Coed y Clun, Trimsaran, and Thomas Williams, 42, of Pencaerfenni Park, Crofty all denied they fished in Burry Inlet, a regulated area, without the authority of a licence.
They had claimed they had collected the cockles from Whiteland Sands but went to the inlet to wash them.
But the prosecution said the group had been seen by Environment Agency officers using equipment to collect the cockles near Weobley Castle — a restricted area.
Magistrates found the group guilty after a two-day trial.
They said that although the seven defendants all gave identical accounts at court, they did not find it credible that any of the seven did not tell officers they were innocent after they were cautioned on the beach.
Chairman of the bench, Phil Jones, said the magistrates had also accepted evidence that washing and collecting cockles were different actions.
The court was told the maximum fine was £50,000 but similar offences in north Wales had recently attracted fines of up to £3,000.
They were each fined £300, told to pay costs each of £505 and a £15 victim surcharge.
Steve Brown, of Environment Agency Wales, said: "This verdict should act as a deterrent to those considering removing cockles illegally. Their activities threaten the livelihoods of licensed cocklers and are harmful to an important local industry. They also undermine the sustainable management of the cockle beds.
He said: "This type of illegal activity can also be extremely dangerous to people who may be unfamiliar with the tides.
"People should not take cockles illegally as they put themselves at risk of harm and of being prosecuted."