Following an independent assessment by global assurance business LRQA, the Leigh Port Partnership cockle fishery in Southend-on-Sea has now been awarded a certificate for the Marine Stewardship Council’s internationally recognised standard for sustainable fishing.
MSC Fishery Standard certification shows that fish stocks are sustainable, environmental impacts have been minimised and the fishery is effectively managed. Being awarded a certificate means the fishery can now sell cockles marked with the MSC blue label from the next cockling season, which begins in July 2020.
Paul Munday, UK&I Area Sales Manager at LRQA who presented the certificate to the fishery commented: “Our assessment team noted good management of the cockle fishery, which has resulted in consistent productivity as well as low environmental impact. This is a great achievement for the fishery and for the cockle fisherman who work incredibly hard to bring high quality food to our plates.”
Most cockles caught in the Thames Estuary are exported to the European Union with canned cockles predominately sent to Spain. 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 sustainably, while also meeting the requirements of local by-laws in Kent and Essex that prevent overfishing. It also factors in the needs of estuary wildlife, such as wading birds that overwinter on the tidal banks where cockles are found.
Fourteen licensed cockle vessels share the total allowable catch between them, fishing off the coast of Essex during July-Sept 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.
Once certified, MSC fisheries undergo annual audits to monitor improvements on conditions and continued compliance with the standard and are fully reassessed every five years.
Leigh Port Partnership spokesperson, Andrew Rattley, said: “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. 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."