Cockles are burrowing bivalve shellfish, found on all British and European coasts. They are common in intertidal areas and shallow waters. Cockles live within a few centimetres of the surface. Their lifespan is typically 2-4 years and they spawn at around 18 months.
The Thames Estuary cockle fishery was first certified in 2019 making it the sixth MSC certified cockle fishery in the North Atlantic. The fishery is managed by the Leigh Port Partnership.
Fourteen licensed cockle vessels share the total allowable catch between them, fishing off the coast of Essex between July and 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, Essex, and Whitstable and Queenborough, Kent.
Limiting the catch to specific months of the year and only harvesting 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.
Up until the late 1960s, cockles were collected from the estuary by hand-raking them out of the sand at low-tide. The cockles are now harvested using a mechanised dredge. In 2017, the fishery caught 3,800 tonnes of cockles with most being exported to markets across the European Union.
The fishery harvests cockles using a mechanical dredge. Dredges are rigid structures that are towed along the seabed to harvest bivalves such as scallops, oysters and clams. To learn more about them, click on the image below.
Cockling has been an important part of our local community for hundreds of years. MSC certification proves our fishers continue to be committed to the sustainability of the fishery into the future. 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.
Andrew Rattley, Leigh Port Partnership
COCKLES: DIVE DEEPER
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BUY MSC CERTIFIED COCKLES
MSC labelled cockles are sold in the United Kingdom, the United States and across northern Europe.
CONTACT THE FISHERY
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