Commencement of The Wash annual cockle surveys
The intertidal cockle stocks in The Wash not only provide an important resource for the local fishing industry but also an essential food supply for the internationally important communities of birds that reside or over-winter at the site. It is important, therefore, that the stocks are managed sustainably. Each year Eastern-IFCA conduct extensive cockle surveys on the inter-tidal sandbanks and mudflats in order to inform the management decisions for the coming summer’s fishery. These surveys provide information about the distribution and densities of the cockles across the beds, their ages and size ranges, and estimates their total biomass from which a Total Allowable Catch (TAC) for the coming fishery can be determined. Failure to conduct the surveys could result in the stocks being overfished, to the long-term detriment of both the fishery and the wildlife, or a precautionary approach being required, resulting in a much smaller fishery taking place than would otherwise be the case.
Unfortunately, due the risks associated with the Covid-19 pandemic, 2020 was the first year Eastern-IFCA had not been able to conduct a full cockle survey since they were first started by the IFCA’s predecessor, ESFJC, in 1995. Although a shortened stock assessment was conducted, enabling a TAC to be estimated for the fishery, in the absence of a full survey the fishery management needed to be precautionary, resulting in the 2020 fishery being more restricted than would otherwise have been the case.
Although Covid-19 is still a risk, Eastern-IFCA staff are taking regular lateral flow tests, working in small team bubbles and maintaining social distancing guidelines so that a full cockle survey can be conducted this year. This commenced with the first samples being collected on March 14th and will run through until the end of April.