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Credit: Emma Rance

Poole Harbour Fisheries

Dredging for shellfish in Poole Harbour has taken place for over 40 years. The fishery started as a small artisanal fishery for the common cockle (Cerastoderma edule) and then, with the introduction of the Manila clam (Ruditapes philippinarum) in the 1980s, there was increased investment and intensity of fishing effort which led to the development of new fishing methods. 

The fishery started using hand-raking techniques which then developed into the use of mechanised dredges. The modern-day fishery uses the pump-scoop dredge system which consists of a mechanically operated dredge basket which utilises water jets to direct the flow of sediment through the dredge to increase efficiency. The Manila clam and common cockle are the main species harvested although other clam species including the American Hard-Shelled clam (Mercenaria mercenaria) and the native clam (Ruditapes decussatus) are also collected in smaller quantities.

The fishery was originally managed under The Poole Fishery Order 1985, a hybrid several and regulating order, which managed both the wild fishery for clam species and aquaculture within Poole Harbour. This introduced a licencing system for fishing for clams using the pump-scoop dredge but this did not extend to the use of this fishing gear for other species. 

On 1 st July 2015, the Poole Harbour Dredge Permit Byelaw was introduced to replace the Fishery Order and manage the wild dredge fishery for shellfish. The byelaw requires a permit to use a pump-scoop dredge within Poole Harbour and therefore manages the direct use of the fishing gear rather than a particular species, bringing together fishing for multiple species under a single management measure. 

Up to 45 permits are taken out each year. In 2021, 217 tonnes of Manila clam were landed into Poole Harbour. In addition, 32 tonnes of Cockles and 13 tonnes of American Hard Shell Clam were also landed here. 

Credit Emma Rance
Credit Emma Rance

Permits are issued annually and, currently, 45 permits are issued each year. All vessels in the fishery are less than 9m in length and are small open vessels which carry out day fishing trips during periods of high water. The byelaw regulates a number of areas of the fishing operation including;

  • Catch restrictions and reporting
  • Gear types
  • Gear construction and restrictions
  • Spatial and temporal restrictions
  • The fitting of specified equipment to vessels

The fishery is seasonal, running from 25 th May to 23 rd December each year. Outside of the season all dredge equipment must be removed from vessels. There are also additional seasonal restrictions on accessing certain areas within the Harbour which are identified as being important for national and international overwintering bird species.

The fishery operates within the boundary of the Poole Harbour Special Protection Area (SPA), Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and Ramsar Site. The management for the fishery was developed in close consultation with Natural England and other organisations to ensure that the fishing methods are compatible with the conservation objectives of the site.  

The value of the fishery and quantities of the main commercial species landed is monitored each year through the submission of catch data. For the 2019-2020 season a total of 277. 2 tonne of Manila clam, 79.8 tonne of common cockle and 21.5 tonne of other bivalve species were landed by the 45 participants in the fishery. The value of the fishery for 2019-2020 is estimated at between £1,333,159.60 and £1,764,325.80 based on the fluctuating value per kg of individual species landed throughout the season.

Marine Stewardship Council and Seafish Responsible Fishing Scheme Certification

In March 2018 the Poole Harbour clam and cockle fishery was certified under the Marine Stewardship Council Certificate as a sustainable fishery. Simultaneously, fishers within the fishery were certified under the Seafish Responsible Fishing Scheme for responsible fishing practices and social ethics. The fishery was the first globally to achieve both certifications at the same time and was a collaborative effort between the Poole and District Fishermen’s Association and the Southern IFCA.

The MSC certification allows the fishers to sell their produce under the MSC blue label, introducing the potential for new market opportunities. The certification is an independent verification of the hard work by both fishers and managers to ensure that the fishery can operate sustainably and in a way which is compatible with the conservation objectives of Poole Harbour MPA. More information on the fishery can be found on the MSC Fishery page here.

The Poole Clam and Cockle Fishery Partnership Project

The successful certification of the Poole Clam and Cockle fishery under both MSC and RSF awards was achieved as a result of partnership working between the Poole and District Fisherman’s Association (PDFA), Dorset Wildlife Trust (DWT), Seafish and Southern IFCA. Building on the success of partnership working, partners identified the benefit of maintaining a shared approach when addressing the ongoing management of this fishery.

In order for the Poole Clam and Cockle fishery to maintain MSC certification standards, a number of conditions must be met which relate to the potential interactions between the fishery and species which are endangered, threatened or protected (collectively known as ETP species). Following confirmation of funding from the Ocean Stewardship Fund (OSF) Program of the MSC in October 2020, Southern IFCA began working with partners DWT, the PDFA and a local consultancy Noctiluca Marine on the Poole Clam and Cockle Fishery Partnership Project.

The Project aims to:

  1. establish a process by which fishers can be supported to minimise interactions with ETP species within the Poole Harbour Dredge Permit fishery
  2. increase awareness of ETP species in Dorset and to promote the benefits of fishers as sentinels for the recording of ETP sightings and interactions, via a voluntary approach rather than through the introduction of a fishing restriction
  3. demonstrate a model of best practice for MSC fisheries in the management of ETP interactions
  4. provide a blue print of how sustainable fisheries management can successfully co-exist within the context of an MPA
  5. provide a blue print approach to support the attainment of MSC certification in other fisheries within MPAs

This Project officially begun on the 1st March 2021 and ran until March 2022. Details of the project outputs can be found on the ETP Species page on our website.

Fishery Monitoring and Stock Assessments

Southern IFCA has carried out stock assessments of commercially harvested species in Poole Harbour for a number of years. Since 2016, the survey methodology has been expanded and standardised to allow for the collection of a time-series dataset that can be used to inform management of the fishery. The survey work contributes to assessing the sustainability of the fishery and is reviewed as part of the annual MSC audit.

As part of the survey, 27 shellfish beds are sampled across the Harbour using two methodologies. The first methodology works with the local fishers, using one of the permitted fishing vessels, to sample each of the shellfish beds using the pump-scoop dredge gear used in the fishery. The second part of the survey involves sampling the shellfish beds again using a hand operated sediment dredge which allows sampling of the juvenile section of the population.

There was no stock assessment report for 2020 as we were unable to undertake the survey due to COVID-19.

Marine Protected Area Assessments

Duties under Regulation 63 of the Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations 2017 require Southern IFCA, as a competent authority, to make an appropriate assessment of a plan or project likely to have a significant effect on a European site (either alone or in combination with other plans or projects). As such, Southern IFCA undertakes an annual appropriate assessment for the issue of permits under the Poole Harbour Dredge Permit byelaw. The purpose of the assessment is to determine, whether or not in the view of Southern IFCA, the issue of permits will hinder the achievement of the conservation objectives of the Poole Harbour SPA and lead to an adverse effect on site integrity.

A review of research into shellfish dredging impacts identifies the permitted activity has the potential to disturb bird populations and lead to changes in prey availability. These potential impacts and risks to the integrity of the site are however mitigated through a number of conditions applied under the permit. These include the exclusion of shellfish dredging all year round in a number of key sites which represent important areas for feeding and roosting, prohibition of shellfish dredging during key sensitive times (1st November-23rd December & 25th May-30th June) in a series of sites also important for feeding and roosting, the timing of the closed season which largely corresponds to the overwintering period, a cap on fishing effort through the allocation of a set number of permits and a number of restrictions on gear configuration. Additional mitigation is also afforded through the Southern IFCA Poole Harbour Saltmarsh Protection Code of Practice which sets out guidelines promote the protection of important supporting habitats for the bird species.

Based on these mitigation measures, in the form of permit conditions and additional protection from the Poole Harbour Roosting Sites Code of Practice, it was concluded that that issuing of permits for the 2020/21 season under the Poole Harbour Dredge Permit Byelaw would not hinder the site from achieving its conservation objectives and as such would not have an adverse effect upon on the integrity of the Poole Harbour SPA and Ramsar site. The outcome of this HRA is used to determine whether the number of permits issued each year is sustainable and compatible with the conservation objectives of the site.

Poole Harbour Special Protection Area (SPA) Appropriate Assessment - Issue of Permits Under Poole Harbour Dredge Permit Byelaw (2023-24 Season)

Poole Harbour Special Protection Area (SPA) Appropriate Assessment - Issue of Permits Under Poole Harbour Dredge Permit Byelaw (2024-25 Season)

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