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Poole clam and cockle fishery all set for another sustainable season

The clam and cockle season re-opens today in Poole Harbour (25 May), showcasing one of the best examples of a sustainable fishery and how it can support everyone along the way from sea to plate. 

The boats of the Poole Harbour Clam and Cockle Fishery in Dorset are part of an initiative that’s proved to be rewarding for them, seafood stocks and seafood lovers since it was independently certified to the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) fishery standard in 2018, in partnership with Poole and District Fishermen’s Association and Dorset Wildlife Trust – making it the first in the county to be certified. 

Recertified earlier this year, the fishery provides financial sustainability to the 45 permit holders who landed 337 tonnes of clams and 34.2 tonnes of cockles in 2022. 

Dr Sarah Birchenough, Deputy Chief Officer for Southern IFCA, the Southern Inshore Fisheries and Conservation Authority, said “The successful MSC recertification of the Poole Clam and Cockle Fishery is a fantastic achievement and reflects the continued positive collaboration between the Poole and District Fishermen’s Association and the Southern IFCA as well as wider partners including Dorset Wildlife Trust. The fishers’ hard work to ensure that their fishery continues to operate sustainably is reflected in the continued certification and demonstrates best practice in effective management of fishing activity within a Marine Protected Area.”  

The 2023 fishing season (which runs until December) recommences two months after advice not to harvest shellfish from Poole Harbour was issued as a precautionary measure following an oil spill incident there in March. 

Then in April, after testing, Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole Council gave the all-clear for harvesting to recommence, subject to the normal food safety, conservation and seasonal requirements.  

MSC Fisheries Outreach Manager in the UK and Ireland, Lisa Bennett, added: “The Poole Harbour Clam and Cockle Fishery is a fantastic example of how MSC certification can enable a small scale fishery not only to survive, but to thrive.” 

The small boats only collect adult Manila clams and cockles, leaving the juvenile shellfish on the seabed, thereby preserving stocks. The fishery also worked to create their own Endangered, Threatened and Protected Risk Management Strategy, which has helped them to better understand and identify relevant species in the area. 

The fishery’s sustainability progress and success has also been enjoyed by seafood lovers. For the third season running, Waitrose will offer Poole Harbour MSC Certified Clams and Cockles on its fish counters with the blue MSC ecolabel, supplied by the Dorset Shellfish Company.  In June 2020, it became the first major UK supermarket chain to sell this sustainable shellfish when, with restaurants closed during the first Covid-19 lockdown, there was an opportunity to champion prized UK produce and support a small scale fishery.    

One of the architects of the Poole fishery, lifelong fisher and chairman of the Poole and District Fishermen's Association, Tommy Russell, has been recognised nationally and internationally for his part in its success. 

in 2021, he became the first winner of the MSC Fisher of the Year award. Earlier this year, Tommy joined George Clark, MSC UK Programme Director, as they shared the story of the Poole fishery with a global audience at the 11th World Ocean Summit in Lisbon. 

For seafood lovers looking to enjoy cockles and clams at home, the MSC website includes lots of recipes including these from MSC Ambassadors Mitch Tonks and James Strawbridge.