A pair of Buddhists felt the full force of the claw after they were fined almost £30,000 - for releasing foreign lobsters bought in Greenwich into the sea.

Ni Li and Zhixiong Li were among 100 Buddhists who released the crustaceans into the Channel as part of a religious ceremony - despite them being an invasive species.

They spent more than £5,500 on 361 live American lobsters and 35 Dungeness crabs, which they released from three boats, chartered off Brighton Marina.

The party, who were celebrating the visit of Taiwanese Buddhist master Hai Tao, undertook the ritual of 'fang sheng' or life release, which is meant to save the lives of animals destined for slaughter.

They even made a 100-mile round trip to London back to Brighton after fishmongers in the area ran out of shellfish.

But the ceremony on June 15, 2015 wreaked havoc on local marine life, forcing the Marine Management Organisation (MMO) to offer local fishermen £20 for each alien lobster they caught.

Zhixiong Li, 30, from Hendon, organised the party and oversaw the release.

Ni Li, 33, from Rotherhithe, purchased the shellfish from Brighton and Newhaven Fish Sales and SeeWoo in Greenwich.

The pair pleaded guilty to a breach of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 at Brighton Magistrates’ Court on Wednesday.

NI Li was fined £3,500, ordered to pay £9,000 in compensation, costs of £3,000 and a victim surcharge of £170.

Zhixiong Li was fined £500, ordered to pay £9,000 in compensation, costs of £3,000 and a victim surcharge of £50.

The compensation was awarded to the MMO to pay for the action to recover the non-native species.

Commenting on the prosecution, a spokesman for the MMO said: "The size of the fines in this case recognises the significant risk to the marine environment posed by offences of this nature.

"The MMO would like to thank both the local fishing industry for their significant assistance in the recovery of the animals from our seas and the Buddhist community for their help in communicating and educating people on the risks posed by the release of non-native species into our waters."