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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 - UK
Stock detail - All Areas
Certification -
Fish type - Shellfish

Sustainability rating Click for explaination of rating

This fish, caught by the methods and in the area listed above, is not the most sustainable choice of fish to eat. Click on the rating icon above to read more and on the alternatives tab below to find more sustainable fish to eat.

Sustainability overview

Choose cockles harvested by sustainable methods only such as licensed hand gathering. Avoid eating them during the breeding season from March to July. Choose cockles from areas where there are measures, such as seasonal closures and minimum landing sizes, to protect the spawning stock or from certified fisheries, such as those in the Burry Inlet and Dee Estuary.


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. Cockle stocks are potentially vulnerable to local over-exploitation and depletion. Cockles breed from around Easter to end of summer.


Cockle beds are managed in inshore waters in England through local byelaws enforced by Inshore Fishery Conservation Authorities (IFCAs). Byelaws may prohibit landing of cockles below a minimum landing size (MLS) and/or impose restrictions on the amount collected and/or the method by which they are collected. For example in Kent and Essex IFCA District, landing cockles below 16 mm is prohibited; in South Wales the MLS is 19mm; in North Western and North Wales the MLS is 20mm; in the Southern IFCA District the MLS is 24mm. In Cumbria the local IFCA undertakes annual surveys and stock assessments. In the Southern IFCA District, there is a seasonal fishery closure (1st February-30th April). Byelaws in the Southern IFCA District only permit fishing for cockles by hand, dredge or pump scoop dredge. In areas designated to protect seagrass for example, all methods are prohibited.

Capture information

Hand-gathering is a traditional method of harvesting molluscs involving the use of hand tools such as tongs and rakes. In some areas it may be the only method permitted, e.g. Burry Inlet, Wales, Dorset and Cornwall.

Read more about capture methods


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