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Cockle, cockles

Cerastoderma edule

Method of production - Caught at sea
Capture method - Hand-gathering
Capture area - North East Atlantic (FAO 27)
Stock area - Wales
Stock detail - Burry Inlet
Certification - Marine Stewardship Council (MSC)
Fish type - Shellfish

Sustainability rating Click for explaination of rating

This fish, caught by the methods and in the area listed above, is a good sustainable fish to eat. Click on the rating icon above to read more and on the alternatives tab below to find similar fish to eat.

Sustainability overview

Choose cockles harvested by sustainable methods only such as licensed hand gathering. Avoid eating them during breeding season from March to July. Burry Inlet cockles are MSC certified and are a sustainable choice.


The common cockle is a bivalve mollusc found buried in mud and sand in estuaries and on beaches. Cockles have distinctive rounded shells that are slightly heart shaped. It is a bivalve (two identical shells) belonging to the family Cardidae meaning 'heart-shaped' . An organ called a siphon allows the animal to feed and breathe whilst buried in the sand. They can jump by bending and straightening the foot - the end bit- which is often coloured red and called the 'red nose'. The shell size is up to 5cm long, although average sizes tend to be around 3-4cm. Maturity occurs at a shell length of around 2cm. Cockles spawn from March to August, although exact times will vary from region to region.

Stock information

Stock area

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Stock information
Species widely distributed on coastlines throughout North Atlantic region. Cockles breed from around Easter to end of summer. The cockle stocks in the Bury Inlet are assessed by the Centre for Environment, Fisheries & Aquaculture Science (Cefas), who undertake bi-annual surveys. At the time of the initial Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) certification, cockle stocks had been plentiful over a number of years with relatively high quotas. However since 2002 cockle stocks within the Bury Inlet have suffered unexplained mortality. The fishery is now dominated by 1 year olds, which spawn, then gradually die off from late spring/summer through to autumn. Measures to promote recovery of the fishable biomass (larger cockle) are being implemented, e.g. through thinning of dense beds of juvenile cockle, temporary closures of beds and closure of the entire fishery. Measures can be effective, but success is largely dependent upon local conditions beyond the control of fishery managers.


In 1965 the Burry Inlet Cockle Order was established to licence the fishery and so control the quantity of cockle taken. Natural Resources Wales is the body currently responsible for managing this Order. The number of commercial gatherers is determined by the number of licences issued, this has varied between 43 and 67, with only 50 licenced fishermen operating since May 2000. Local byelaws prohibit landing of cockles below the current Minimum Landing Size (MLS) of 19 mm and impose restrictions on amount collected and the method by which they are collected. A Total Allowable Catch (TAC) allows 33% of the stock to be exploited via a daily quota to licence holders. No Sunday or night gathering is permitted and fishery managers may close the fishery for stock preservation reasons. The fishery in the Burry Inlet has been certified by the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) as an environmentally responsible fishery since 2001. The fishery was recertified in February 2007 and August 2013.

Capture information

The Burry Inlet cockle industry has largely existed in the same way since the 1800s with individuals raking and collecting them at low tide. Originally fished by women using donkeys, they were displaced by men who left heavy industry and used horse and cart. Each gatherer was then collecting around 2-3 cwt (0.1-0.15 tonne) per day, with an estimated 250 gatherers at work in the estuary. Cooking took place close to the gatherers home. Hand-gathering is a traditional method of harvesting molluscs involving the use of hand tools such as tongs and rakes. In this area it is the only method permitted. Riddles or seives are used to ensure cockles below the minumum landing size are not taken. Cockles small enough to pass through the mesh are left in place to rebury.

Read more about capture methods


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