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Commercial Fishing



Poole harbour clamming season off to a strong start despite poor weather conditions. There was excitement in the air at fisherman’s dock in Poole Harbour last week, as fishermen came in from a busy morning on the first day of the clamming season.

Around 15 permit holders had been out on Wednesday despite gloomy, wet weather.

The Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) certified Poole harbour clam and cockle fishery has had a turbulent past, being plagued by bouts of illegal fishing. Under Southern IFCA guidance that led to MSC certification in 2018, the fishery has had to ensure its methods are compatible with the conservation objectives of the site, which is one of Special Scientific Interest.

A permit byelaw was introduced in 2015 for both clams and cockles to prevent illegal activity. Dr Sarah Birchenough, Inshore fisheries and conservation officer at Southern IFCA, confirmed: “We went down by 95% in terms of illegal activity since 2015 and it has maintained at that low level.”

The fishery is preparing for its MSC reassessment, which will begin in September. It has been audited annually since being certified as a sustainable fishery, to examine any changes that might have occurred either in the physical environment or in the management of the fishery.

Jo Pollett, Fisheries Outreach Manager at the MSC, said:

“It’s been fantastic to witness the positive development of this fishery over the years, which is such a big part of the local community in Poole, and it’s really rewarding to see their clams being bought and sold by the likes of Waitrose. It’s a great example of how effective management can support a flourishing ecosystem and a well-loved industry.”

Mike Bailey, one of the 45 permit holders at the fishery, had been out fishing since 6am. He appeared satisfied with his 170 kg haul brought in by the Karen-Rose, although joked: “Normally the first week is the worst of the year!”

The Chinese manila or Japanese carpet shell clam is the main species harvested in Poole harbour via pump scoop dredges and was introduced in the 1980s for aquaculture purposes. It soon thrived in the shallow waters of the bay and became naturalised without causing damage to the native species (Ruditapes decussatus). The common cockle is also harvested in smaller quantities.

Sarah remarked that the stock is particularly robust in the area, with rigorous measures in place to ensure fishers take only mature shellfish. She explained that the gear is specially designed for this purpose:

“The spacing between those bars has to be at least 18mm, it’s all designed to minimize under size being brought up. It gets secondarily sorted on the riddle table and they [undersize] go straight back, they’re quite resilient clams and cockles because they’ve got tough shells – they rebury themselves quite easily.”

A patrol boat surveys the area during fishing hours to monitor catch. The fishery also has a number of spatial closures in place to reduce its impact on sensitive ecosystems such as salt marsh. A project funded by the MSC’s Ocean Stewardship Fund last year helped to establish a process by which fishers can be supported to minimise interactions with Endangered, Threatened and Protected species within the fishery, some of which include seals and seahorses.

Tommy Russell, clam fisher of 25 years, has embraced these changes for the well-being of the fishery. He said, about the permit scheme: “It’s saved us, everyone thinks it’s been a great benefit.”