POLICE could get new powers to deal with illegal gangs raiding the Solway cockle beds.
Proposals are being considered by the Scottish Government after a meeting in the wake of protests from coastal communities.
High on the agenda was an attempt to sort out a policing grey area which has seen a bit of a stand-off between the Dumfries and Galloway force and Marine Scotland.
The police insist their powers do not extend to the foreshore where the poacher gangs operate.
Marine Scotland insist responsibility does lie with the police.
Poachers have regularly been stripping cockle beds near Sandgreen and Fleet Bay since the winter.
It was agreed at Fridays meeting in Dumfries that a framework would be drafted to help local officers, Marine Scotland and other organisations improve the way intelligence on investigations is shared.
Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) and the Gangmaster Licensing Association were involved in the meeting.
Scottish Fisheries Secretary Richard Lochhead, who was in the chair, said: A number of options are now being considered to ensure that the existing ban can be upheld and local disturbances removed.
A strategy will be prepared to allow all public bodies with an interest in the issue to work more closely together, including sharing intelligence.
Proposals are being considered on additional enforcement powers as well as changes to how existing offences are specified that could make them easier to enforce.
I look forward to appropriate measures being implemented that will help to resolve this issue as soon as possible.
Gatehouse Community Council has been at the forefront of complaints about illegal cockling activity.
Deputy provost Ian McConchie, who was at the meeting, said: There was a fair amount of progress. There has not been really that much cooperation between the organisations. That is to be amended.
It was great to see these organisations finally get together to discuss the problem and hopefully we can now move forward.
Re-opening the Solway to licensed cockle-pickers was also discussed at Fridays meeting.
But a local gangmaster has criticised the organisers of the meeting, which was closed to the public.
Colin Bryden, from Dumfries, said that local fishermen needed to be more involved if the fishery was re-opened.
He said: I agree with the police needing more powers to deal with the problem. I do not dispute that.
But we spend all this money on involving all these people and groups when we could use the police, gangmasters and local fishermen to solve the problem.
These people and groups like SNH make decisions but they do not tell the people who work on the beds.
It would be better run by local people.