Sustainability of Fisheries in The Wash

Each year, Eastern IFCA conducts extensive cockle surveys on the inter-tidal sandbanks and mudflats of The Wash – a designated Marine Protected Area. We do this because in addition to supporting a significant local fishery, the intertidal cockle stocks in The Wash also provide an important food supply for the internationally important communities of birds that reside or over-winter at the site. It is therefore crucial that these stocks are managed sustainably to meet the necessary thresholds of the bird-food model and enable an annual fishery.


Annual cockle 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.


Eastern IFCA’s 2022 cockle surveys show that the stocks in the regulated fishery do not meet the bird-food model threshold and are unable to support a cockle fishery this year. This is primarily the result of very low spatfalls in 2019 and 2020 and only a moderate spatfall in 2021. Combined with this is that fact that cockle densities are very low, particularly for adult cockles, which would make any fishery difficult to prosecute. As a consequence, the recommendations to the full Authority at their next meeting on 8th June 2022 will be that both the cockle fishery and the dredged mussel re-laying dredge fisheries are not opened this year.


You can read the full report on the 2022 cockle surveys here.


In the absence of the annual cockle fishery, which is a mainstay for fishermen in the Wash, Eastern IFCA anticipates an understandable shift in effort to other fisheries this year, particularly the shrimp and whelk fisheries. Unfortunately, neither of these can accommodate any significant increases in effort. While we understand the present risks to the Wash fishing industry, we must ensure that these fisheries remain sustainable and are not overexploited to the detriment of the stocks or the environment.


As a consequence, we are actively considering if further management measures are required for these fisheries, which may include early adoption of Inshore Vessel Monitoring Systems, in advance of the national regulation being in place.


We are acutely aware of the impacts on the industry, particularly in the context of additional external pressures including rising fuel and living costs and we will be consulting with stakeholders on our management proposals.


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