Skip to main content

Scallop fisherman and world’s first MSC certified bivalve mollusc fishery honoured in sustainable seafood awards

Karen Attwood

Senior PR Manager UK & Ireland   

A scallop fisherman from Shetland and the world’s first Marine Stewardship Council certified bivalve mollusc fishery have both been honoured at the MSC UK’s annual awards. 

George Andrew Williamson, who lives in and fishes from the island of Whalsay, a 30 minute ferry ride from Laxo, on Mainland, Shetland, scooped the MSC UK Fishing Hero of the Year award for his work in championing sustainable seafood.

The Dee Estuary and Burry Inlet cockle fishery won the Ocean Leadership award for its exemplary leadership and unique contribution in furthering the sustainability of fisheries.  Burry Inlet, in Carmarthen Bay, Wales, became the world’s first MSC certified bivalve mollusc fishery in 2001 and was followed by Dee Estuary, in North Wales, in 2012. 

Both are now managed on a joint MSC certificate by Natural Resources Wales (NRW), which is a Welsh government sponsored body. The award recognises the efforts of NRW to support bird life in the area.

The MSC UK Awards, which are a celebration of the commitment to sustainable seafood across the whole supply chain from ocean to plate, were held last night (October 26) at the Fishmongers’ Hall, London and were sponsored by Seafood Scotland. 

The Fishing Hero of the Year award is designed to recognise an outstanding individual that has driven forward further sustainability efforts in a UK fishery that is already MSC certified. 

George Andrew, who accepted his award via video link during the ceremony, said: “It’s a great honour and I was really not expecting this. My father was fishing for 55 years before I was born and hopefully my son will take over from me and it is due to the commitment to sustainability that this is possible. If it wasn’t for sustainability the whole scallop industry would be finished here.”

To mark the tenth year of the awards this year, a display featuring key milestones in the MSC’s UK history was exhibited. The keynote speech was given by broadcaster and marine biologist Monty Halls, with an additional address from MSC CEO, Rupert Howes.

This year’s MSC award was handmade by eco homeware company Rawr, using crushed clam and cockle shells from the MSC certified Poole Harbour fishery in Dorset, and mussel shells from Shetland’s MSC certified fishery.

George Andrew, who is in the process of retiring from fishing, served on the board of the Shetland Shellfish Management Organisation (SSMO), which is responsible for the fisheries’ MSC certificate, for five years. He was also part of a major MSC campaign to promote Sustainable Seafood Week in 2022, which this year became Sustainable Seafood September, a movement supported by major retailers, brands and processors across the seafood supply chain. George Andrew is one the fishermen to feature in the MSK UK’s TV advert.

In order to support filming the campaign in 2022, George Andrew broke off from fishing to meet and greet researchers and staged a special fishing trip for the film crew and writers to record scallop fishing in action. He demonstrated how to shuck MSC scallops and talked about the history of the fishery, stressing the importance of MSC endorsement in helping underpin a stable market for Shetland’s catch of five million scallops a year.

SSMO coordinator John Robertson said: “George Andrew is a genuine treasure and always keen to help. He’s a pleasure to spend time with and he truly is dedicated to the fine art of enjoying fish. The last time he appeared in my office he had marinated herring and fish egg paste for me to try.” 

With a few simple, low impact tools – a rake, sieve, and sacks to transport the harvested cockles – Dee Estuary and Burry Inlet cockle fishery has repeatedly met the increasingly high bar of the MSC Fisheries Standard. In 2022 they merged their certificates and in February 2023 were successfully recertified to maintain their certification for another five years, with no conditions and a perfect Principle 2, which is Minimising Environmental Impact, score.

Rhian Jardine, Head of Development Planning and Marine at Natural Resources Wales, said: “The whole of Natural Resources Wales, especially our Cockle Management Team, are delighted at the recognition of the work to manage the fisheries to the best of our abilities over the years. This is a huge honour and totally unexpected.
“The work we do to protect and enhance Wales’ environment impacts everything that matters most – our communities, our wildlife and our future.
“We do all we can to ensure Wales can survive and thrive against the backdrop of the nature, climate and pollution emergencies and we are thrilled to be recognised for our efforts with this award.”

The cockle beds enable more than just a thriving, historic fishing community. They support an internationally important over-wintering site for wildfowl and wading birds, earning the status of a Special Protection Area (SPA) (EC Birds Directive), Special Area of Conservation (Habitats Directive) and Ramsar site. 

Despite there being no conditions against the fishery operating in these areas, the 2013 Stillman Bird Food model was designed to support allocation of TAC in cockle fisheries. It utilises physiological requirements of the overwintering birds to estimate the number of cockles required to maintain this population over winter. 

Lisa Bennett, MSC UK & Ireland Senior Fisheries Outreach Manager, said: “These two fishing industry awards are well deserved. 

“For over 20 years, the assessments for Burry Inlet and more recently the Dee Estuary,  have reported a well-manged small and discrete fishery with low environmental impact. 

“Meanwhile, scallop fisherman George Andrew Williamson has been committed to sustainable fishing across his career and went above and beyond for the MSC Sustainable Seafood campaign. Congratulations to both winners!”