The Wash Fishery Order 1992

Please note: Management of Wash cockle and mussel fisheries is transitioning from being under the Wash Fishery Order to the Wash Cockle and Mussel Byelaw 2021.  Information on this page is still relevant to the management of the fishery under interim measures, including the Interim Policies and Regulations, but references to the Wash Fishery Order are out of date.  The page will be updated in due course.  If you have any questions about the management of the Wash cockle and mussel fisheries, please contact the office. 



The Wash is an estuary embayment in the Eastern IFCA district. The area hosts several ‘Marine Protected Areas’ and important fisheries including, cockle, mussel, brown shrimp and whelk.

Eastern IFCA manages the cockle and mussel fisheries in The Wash under the Wash Fishery Order 1992 (WFO). The management measures of the WFO ensure that fishing activity is both sustainable and viable for industry whilst preventing adverse impact on the protected features of the Marine Protected Areas.

To fish for mussels or cockles in The Wash you need a WFO licence. The Authority is not issuing any WFO licences to individuals without an entitlement. We currently have 61 entitlements.

Management of the fisheries include the following:

  • – Undertaking annual stock assessments
  • – Implementing our Cockle Fishery Management Plan
  • – Consulting WFO licence holders and skippers
  • – Working with Natural England and other organisations to ensure sustainable cockle harvests
  • – Taking enforcement action to protect the cockle beds from illegal harvesting

More information about the management of the cockle and mussel fisheries in The Wash is below including relevant links to:

What is The Wash?

The Wash is an estuary embayment that borders the counties of Lincolnshire and Norfolk on the east coast of England, UK.

There are two active public fisheries managed by the WFO currently, cockles and mussels. The WFO area includes the entire embayment except for the le Strange Estate, the areas leased as private fisheries, and a restricted area that is managed by a separate byelaw.

The intertidal mussel fishery has been inactive for some years due to declining stocks. There are scientific investigations underway to establish why this is the case. There are also active whelk and shrimp fisheries in the Wash which are managed by separate byelaws.

What is the Wash Fishery Order 1992?

The Wash Fishery Order 1992 (WFO) is a regulating order granted under the Sea Fisheries (Shellfish) Act 1967. Regulating orders are used to grant exclusive fishing or management rights within a designated area to manage a natural or private shellfishery. The allocation of WFO licences is informed by a set of policies. These set out how Eastern IFCA exercises discretion to issue licences under the Order.

The WFO is a ‘hybrid’ order. The hybrid order consists of a regulating order which is used to manage the public natural fisheries and a several order which enables Eastern IFCA to grant private leases, called ‘lays’, for the purposes of private shellfish cultivation. There are a limited number of lays leased. These are allocated on the basis that there is no natural settlement of shellfish in these areas to prevent impact on the public fishery.

The Eastern Sea Fisheries Joint Committee, the predecessor to Eastern IFCA, was granted the WFO in 1993 for 30 years. The WFO expires in January 2023. The WFO enables the management of cockles, mussels, queens, scallops, oysters, and clams in The Wash, where fisheries for these species are available.

Why we need to regulate fisheries in The Wash

The cockle and mussel stocks in The Wash are an important resource for the local fishing industry who have been fishing in this area for many generations. The stocks are also an essential food resource for birds that live in The Wash, especially over winter, and the inter-tidal sandbanks and mudflats are an important habitat for invertebrate communities.

The Wash is a Marine Protected Area (MPA). It is a designated Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), a Special Protection Area (SPA), and is part of The Wash and North Norfolk Coast Special Area of Conservation (SAC). You can find out more about the Marine Protected Areas across our Eastern IFCA district here.

It is therefore very important that the cockle and mussel fisheries, and the other important fisheries in The Wash, are managed so that they do not have an adverse impact on the MPAs.

Management of the public cockle fishery in The Wash

Eastern IFCA develop management measures for the cockle fishery annually.  This starts with the annual cockle stock survey which indicates the size of the stock, the amount of juvenile and adult cockles and the distribution of cockles throughout the Wash.

The results of the survey are used to develop draft management measures which are informed by the Cockle Fishery Management Plan.  This plan, updated in 2018 in consultation with Wash fishermen and Natural England, sets out what management measures should be given the state of the cockle stock.

Management measures are further informed by a Habitats Regulation Assessment which identifies what other measures may be needed to protect designated features of the Wash MPAs for example, the protection of seal haul-out areas during the pupping season.

We consult on the draft measures with Wash fishermen and take into account the feedback to finalise management measures for the fishery that year.

Management of the public mussel fishery in The Wash

Declining mussel stocks have resulted in the absence of a public mussel fishery in The Wash in recent years. Work is underway to establish the cause of this decline. The absence of mussels in the public fishery has an impact on the food available for the birds. This impacts the TAC for the cockle fishery which takes bird food availability into account.

Occasionally, mussel relaying fisheries are enabled that target juvenile mussels for the purposes of ‘relaying’ the mussel onto beds for private aquaculture. The majority of mussel removed from wild beds for this purpose are relayed within the WFO lays.

The Welland Wall mussel fishery situated on the bank of the River Welland in Lincolnshire is the remaining successful public mussel fishery in The Wash. The nature of the riverbank is such that it effectively manages itself without need for cultivation. A licence is still required to access this fishery for commercial purposes. There are specific licence conditions associated with this licence, you can find the links to these below.

What will happen when the WFO expires?

The WFO expires in January 2023. The Authority has agreed that the order will be replaced with a byelaw to provide more contemporary and sustainable management for the cockle and mussel fisheries into the future. The work to develop the byelaw and associated policies for managing access to the fisheries is ongoing with the involvement of our stakeholders and relevant organisations.

Relevant Links




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