Cocklers in the Dee estuary today celebrated a major milestone as the industry was presented with a global award for the way it is managed.
The Dee Estuary has been certified by the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) as a sustainable and well-managed fishery after a 10 month assessment.
To celebrate the award, Deputy Minister for Fisheries and Food, Alun Davies, today officially handed the fishery its certificate of sustainability at a ceremony in north Wales.
To gain MSC accreditation as a sustainable fishery, Environment Agency Wales had to prove the fishery was economically viable and could support the seabird population in the environmentally important area, including the distinctive local oystercatchers.
The accreditation will make the Dee cockles more sought after in European markets and mean they can be sold at a premium.
This is testament to the turnaround in the fortunes of the fishery since 2008, when Environment Agency Wales introduced a new licensing system limiting the number of licences available.
Between 1993 and 2007, the cockle beds were closed more often than they were open, with eight out of the fifteen seasons not able to support any cockling.
When it was open, hundreds would be eligible for a permit, and the season would often last no more than a few days.
In 2008, with the introduction of the new licensing system, 50 cocklers were able to fish sustainably for six months of the year.
This gave them the opportunity to make a living out of the fishery and ensure a regular supply of cockles to market.
Last year, the fishery contributed an estimated £2.5m to the local economy and supported wintering birds that rely on the cockles as a food source.
The Minister has also presented the newest cockler with his first full licence after serving a two year apprenticeship under the stewardship of his father.
Wayne James Bradley, 26, from Holywell is the first apprentice to receive a full licence under the Environment Agency Wales scheme that aims to introduce young blood to the fishery.
Deputy Minister Alun Davies said:
“I am encouraged to see that under the management of Environment Agency Wales, the sustainability of the Dee Cockle Fishery is their main objective. This certificate of accreditation from the Marine Stewardship Council recognises the hard work of the Agency in delivering a truly sustainable cockle fishery.David Edwell, Area Manager for Environment Agency Wales said:
“I'm also delighted to present the certificate of achievement to Mr Wayne Bradley on completing his apprenticeship as a cockler in the Dee Estuary. My hope is that this ensures a bright future for both him and the whole Fishery, and inspires more young people to embark on similar apprenticeships."
“When we started this process in 2007, our aim was to turn what was a boom and bust industry into a thriving sustainable fishery.
“This MSC certification not only recognises this achievement, it opens up new markets for Dee cockles and can increase the value of the product.
“It is also good to see Wayne get the recognition he deserves for his hard work in getting his full license. We hope that he will fish for many, many years as this fishery goes from strength to strength.”