1. Executive Summary
In response to requests at two public meetings for a sustainable cockle fishery in the Scottish Solway, it was decided that a scientific investigation of a potential management regime in the Solway Firth would be undertaken. This management study set out to collect data over a three months fishing season during which cockle beds were harvested at a commercial scale to test the suitability and viability of the management approach. This management regime was based onthe principles associated with a Territorial Use Right for Fisheries ( TURF) model, which allocates an area of sea to a specified group, who then undertake further allocation within that for a set period of time to sustainably manage the stock. For this study ran from November 2013 to July 2014.
Due to poor cockle yields, the commercial extraction of cockles did not fulfil its full potential and had to be suspended after a 4 week operational period. It was re-started in summer 2014 and ran for a further two weeks before the project was terminated due to difficult market conditions.
Whilst the study was unable to test the full range of management approaches to the harvest ofa commercial volume of cockles over a sustained period of time, it was able to: 1) develop a range of harvesting controls; 2) develop a training scheme which improved Health & Safety awareness; 3) develop an integrated, multi-agency approach for dealing with non-compliance with the full support of all local enforcement agencies; 4) test a new method of End-Product Testing ( EPT) analysis on seafood entering the food chain to lay the foundation for high-level food traceability; 5) raised awareness within both local communities and conservation organisations of the potential for a low impact sustainable fisheries model which minimises adverse social impacts.
Eleven key observations have been produced from the study and a number of significant achievements attained. The first has been the progression made in terms of enforcement agencies ability to track and police activity and the attention given to implement suitable controls and restrictions to improve the governance of this fishery. Compliance officers had the opportunity to work with fishers and see first-hand the progress of those engaged in the fishery at a local level. Taking this fresh approach has allowed each responsible agency to consider how they can develop and modernise the fishery. The second has been the procedures to improve health and safety on the beach and the ground work put in place for better food traceability which were also significant achievements in this study. Thirdly, the study has also produced basic information on the profile of pickers wishing to prosecute this fishery and developed a model to estimate licence requirements of a given Total Allowable Catch ( TAC) which is a useful tool of future management.
Currently the regulatory framework required to govern this fishery is lacking and needs to be in place to take this fishery forward. The TURF model has much to contribute for producing a fair and equitable system, however traditional approaches used in other Scottish fisheries, for example individual licences, may have a place in this fishery. In the final section of this report a range of management options have been outlined which, in essence, starts with a time limited fishery and then add on layers of regulations which increases the level of controls, as well as environment and social benefits. These should be given attention by administrators and key stakeholders and the collaborations developed during this study should continue so a sustainable cockle fishery can become a reality in the Scottish Solway.
Observation 1 - It should be a prerequisite that all hand licences associated with a cockle fishery require completion of the basic four safety courses and an area-based training course e.g. the new Solway Shore Awareness course.
Observation 2 - The fishery should have a fully documented process which can track bags of cockles back to the picker and the beach area, all the way through the chain to the final customer. The paperwork produced during the study is fit for this purpose and should be used as a template and refined as and when required. What is key is that the process should be as streamlined and straightforward as possible to facilitate compliance.
Observation 3 - Access to the beds via the foreshore is a critical factor to success and requires significant investment of time and effort. Improving access needs to be explored further which could include working with commercial farms near commercial beds. These business have the capacity to support this type of activity and by paying a levy per ton other businesses are able to benefit from the cockling activity whilst reducing local disturbance to communities.
Observation 4 - Building in capacity to improve and develop food safety should continue with the advancement of this fishery. Given that the demand for better food traceability is only likely to increase, the Solway cockle fishery is in a good position to lead on this with the collaboration of the Food Standards Agency Scotland ( FSAS) and the Local Authority (Dumfries and Galloway Council).
Observation 5 - Future management of the Solway cockle fishery should offer the opportunities for young inexperienced fishers to enter and benefit from the local resource. This could be achieved through apprenticeship schemes, however fishing opportunity needs to be monitored to ensure that new entrants have the chance to work in the fishery once apprenticeships are completed.
Observation 6 - Due to the seasonal nature of this fishery, specific opportunity could be made available to fishers who work in other fisheries but who may wish to diversify and supplement their main fishing activity with cockling. This could be offered through a limited number of part time licences that become available once the TAC for that year fishery is known and allocation for long-term licence holders is assessed and met. This should not affect the rights of qualified fishers who may wish to apply for a long-term licence.
Observation 7 - A central distribution centre offers many benefits for improved compliance and food traceability and should be given serious consideration for future management. The two most promising elements from the study - the administration of landings and cockle monitoring for toxins in one location should be maintained. Whether this facility should act more like a traditional fish market, where the sales are operated by a number of individuals/agencies and a fee is charged by the centre to cover costs is an open question.
Observation 8 - Knowing the rate of pay prior to picking commencing is desirable and should be an aspiration for this fishery, however other fair payment systems should also be explored. What is important is that transparent transactions take place so that pickers know they are being suitably rewarded for their efforts.
Observation 9 - The funding of the fishery should be explored further as whilst a flat-rate levy upon each individual's harvest is a viable option, how this fund is used and re-distributed requires further investigation.
Observation 10 - As the management plan for the fishery develops markets need to be kept in mind, efforts should focus on harvesting cockle in their peak condition and at a volume and consistency appealing to a range of different markets. This requires attention to be given to the number of permanent and temporary licences on offer and whether vessels should be involved if the annual TACs support their inclusion.
Observation 11 - A conservation working group should be established to address some of the information gaps identified and support the development of a low impact fishery.