Wash Cockle and Mussel Fishery Update

Last updated: 08/07/2022

At an extraordinary meeting of the full Authority held today (Thursday 7th June 2022) members decided that both the Wash cockle fishery and mussel re-laying fishery will be opened this year.

Before taking the decision, members were presented with additional evidence gathered by officers working in conjunction with the fishing industry via the Wash Fishery Stakeholder Group. They also considered proposed management measures for the cockle fishery that had been developed by the Stakeholder Group as well as the results of a consultation with industry.

Having agreed to open both fisheries Members also agreed to delegate authority to the CEO, in consultation with the Chair and Vice-Chair, to finalise and implement the management measures in relation to each fishery.

Cockle Fishery

The decision to open the cockle fishery was finely balanced as members considered the trade-offs between the impacts of opening versus not opening a fishery. The key risks associated with not opening a cockle fishery in 2022 were that less resilient business models may be lost with the resultant loss of skills and knowledge as fishermen turn to shore-based jobs and who may not return to fishing next year.  Conversely, opening the fishery poses a risk to fisheries in 2023 and 2024 because small pre-spawning cockles are likely to be fished due to low levels of adult cockles in poor densities this year. It was acknowledged that this could, to a certain extent, be mitigated by strong management measures intended to protect younger cockles for future years.

The risks identified were echoed by the responses to the consultation, which showed 60% of respondents in favour of a fishery and 40% in favour of it remaining closed.  Members noted that it was difficult to judge how representative this was because only a small number of responses were received (18% return rate reported at the meeting but late returns and further analysis indicates a slightly higher return rate (circa 25% overall) and a slightly higher percentage in support of opening the fishery).

Officers will now consider further the responses to the recent consultation, which also sought the views of industry on the management proposals, to refine and implement these.

Mussel Fishery

Consideration of the mussel re-laying fishery focused on the potential benefits of a small fishery and the limited impact on stocks.  Officers intend to consider further the responses to the consultation to inform refinements to the proposed management measures.



Background Information

At the 48th Eastern IFCA meeting, members resolved not to open a cockle fishery in 2022 unless further evidence was identified which would resolve two key issues identified by the surveys:

  • Stocks did not provide sufficient food for over-wintering birds which are protected within The Wash; and
  • Adult cockles are in very low density and unlikely to support a viable fishery without removal of smaller, pre-spawning cockles which could impact on future fisheries.

The Wash Fishery Stakeholder Group (WFSG) was convened to address these issues and comprises six industry members, officers and several Authority members, including those from the Wash fishing industry.

The issue of available food for designated birds was resolved and no longer represents a barrier to the fishery opening. It has been identified that a mistake in one bird count artificially inflated the number of oystercatchers published in the annual Wetland Bird Survey report that was provided to Natural England and subsequently to Eastern IFCA in the conservation advice. This, combined with agreement to now include additional cockles (smaller, year-0 cockles) in the bird food model and the addition of a previously un-surveyed mussel bed into the equation means that, in theory at least, a cockle fishery with a TAC of 2,833 tonnes and a mussel re-laying fishery of 900 tonnes could be enabled this year.

In relation to the low density of adult cockle however, additional data provided by industry has not significantly changed the picture provided by the Authority’s stock assessment. Low density adult stock means that the fishery will potentially target smaller cockles which would risk future fisheries.

The WFSG recognised these risks and proposed a set of management measures which could mitigate or limit the impact of a fishery.  These were put to consultation with industry between 28 June 2022 and 6 July 2022.  A summary of the outcomes of this consultation will be published in due course.

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