Sustainable cockles from Thames Estuary in 2020
Fourteen licensed vessels take part in the Thames Estuary cockle fishery

Sustainable cockles from Thames Estuary in 2020

An independent assessment of the Leigh Port Partnership cockle fishery has found it meets the Marine Stewardship Council’s internationally recognised standard for sustainable fishing. The fishery can sell cockles marked with the MSC blue label from the next cockling season, which begins in July 2020.

The Thames Estuary cockle fishery is the sixth MSC certified cockle fishery in the North Atlantic and is one of four based in the UK

The strict science-based criteria of the MSC fishery standard include ensuring sustainable fish stocks, minimising environmental impacts and effectively managing their fishery. Independent assessor Lloyds Register noted good management of the cockle fishery has resulted in consistent productivity as well as low environmental impact.

Limiting the catch to specific months of the year and for cockles of a minimum size up to a scientifically set total allowable catch makes sure the shellfish have time to reach maturity and reproduce, a key part of fishing sustainably. It also factors in the needs of estuary wildlife such as wading birds that overwinter on the tidal banks where cockles are found.

‘Cockling has been an important part of our local community for hundreds of years. This certification proves our fishers continue to be committed to the sustainability of the fishery into the future,’ said Andrew Rattley at the Leigh Port Partnership.

‘As a collective of cockle fishermen working across areas of natural importance and outstanding beauty, alongside many important wildlife species, this is an achievement that we are all personally very proud of. MSC certification provides consumers with the certainty the seafood they buy is sourced and harvested sustainably from a well-managed fishery – we are proud our North Thames cockles are now a part of this scheme.’

Fishing for cockles has been a key part of the area’s fishing activity for hundreds of years

Fourteen licensed cockle vessels share the total allowable catch between them, fishing off the coast of Essex during July-September and at one site off the coast of Kent during October only. The fishery operates out of three ports in England – Leigh-on-Sea in Essex, and Whitstable and Queenborough in Kent.

Once certified, MSC fisheries undergo annual audits, demonstrating improvements on conditions, and are reassessed every five years. A condition set for this fishery is for cockle stock levels to be peer reviewed. This is in addition to the current practice of stock levels being independently checked by Natural England along with Kent and Essex Inshore Fisheries and Conservation Authority.

‘This is a great success story, and we recognise the fishery has worked hard to reach our world-class fisheries standard. Customers who buy any fish, seafood and seaweed products marked with our blue fish eco-label are rewarding fisheries like Leigh Port Partnership for fishing sustainably and demonstrating improvements,’ commented Marine Stewardship Council UK’s Katie Keay.