Shell fishermen have warned of a “catastrophe” for their livelihoods after they were forced to lower their nets in the wake of the Poole Harbour oil leak.

Officials have told fishermen not to harvest clams, mussels and oysters from the seabeds of the world's second biggest natural harbour for the foreseeable future.

They have given no timeframe as to when the threat of poison and contamination from the huge leak to crustacean fish in the harbour is likely to ease.

The trade is worth more than £1million a year to the coastal community and fishermen have warned the fall out from the leak has the potential to be a 'total and utter disaster' for them.

Bournemouth Echo:

Tom Russell, 70, who has fished in Poole Harbour since he was 17, said fishermen are concerned how the oil leak will affect their livelihoods.

Mr Russell is chairman of Poole and District Fishermen's Association and a harbour commissioner, as well as operating two commercial fishing boats himself.

He said: "It has got the potential to be a total and utter disaster for fishermen but at the moment we just don't know.

"Mud and water samples have been taken and tests are being done, which will hopefully take a week to a fortnight.

"We've been told not to gather any clams or catch any fish in the harbour while tests are done.

"Obviously the fishermen are worried. Our livelihood is being threatened through no fault of our own.

"Normally at this time of year a few fishermen catch grey mullet and there are some hand collecting clams.

Bournemouth Echo: Tom Roberts said the leak has the potential to be a 'total and utter disaster' for fishermen.Tom Roberts said the leak has the potential to be a 'total and utter disaster' for fishermen. (Image: BNPS)

"But if it is still closed when the clam season starts in May, there's 45 boats and most of them have crew so you're looking at 80-90 people being affected, and then there's the merchants that buy them.

"The clam industry is really important to the fishermen of Poole and worth sales over £1m so this oil could be a catastrophe."

Fisherman Pete Miles has run Dorset Oysters since 2008, purifying oysters and other shellfish caught in Poole Harbour and selling them to some of the UK's top restaurants.

Mr Miles, 59, said: "We haven't really been told anything yet. Environmental Health is saying don't sell anything but we don't know how long it's going to be for, we've just been told until further notice.

"It does affect our business, but we are used to it as we've had issues with sewage leaks.

"I am hoping this is going to pass fairly quickly. We have a neap tide at the moment, so the water isn't moving much. Once we have a spring tide next week that will hopefully clear a lot quicker.

"We are having to buy shellfish from Jersey for the time being. The clam season is from May to November, when dredging happens. Outside of that season, at this time of year we rely on hand pickers so those guys can't go out and earn a living at the moment."

Bournemouth Echo:

Anglo-French oil and gas company Perenco, which owns the oil field, have been urged to put more resources into the clean-up operation.

The National Trust has reported oil washing up on the shores of Brownsea Island, an important nature reserve and one of the only few habitats left in the UK for red squirrels.

The RSPB have reported some 20 birds around the harbour covered in oil smudges as a result of the spill.

Brian Bleese, the chief executive of the Dorset Wildlife Trust, said: "We call on Perenco to put in more resources to clean it up, before it has a potentially devastating impact."