Cockle Fishing Industry Ireland.

Main cockle fisheries occur in Dundalk Bay , Carlingford, Waterford and Tramore - all are protected areas. Traditional activity is to harvest low levels by hand with rakes.  Modern harvesting methods use hydraulic dredging for cockles, razor clams and surf clams.  They have no protection as they are a non-quota species. 

An altered community structure has resulted from hydraulic dredging, but there is no prognosis for it were dredging to cease. The time-scale and mechanism for restoring the original community are unknown’.


The Dundalk Cockle Fishery

Once its capital potential had been realised the Dundalk cockle resource attracted a rapid increase in fishing effort.   As cockle prices rocketed from around €700 per tonne to reach highs of  €2,700 per tonne the number of boats fitted out with continuous delivery hydraulic dredging equipment, increased from 3 in 2001 to 21 in 2004. 


The appearance of these dredgers resulted in conflict between the traditional rake fisheries and the continuous delivery hydraulic dredgers.  Then the Dundalk Cockle fishery crashed and the fishermen agreed to stop cockle fishing. Now the dredging boats have redirected their efforts to other cockle beds such as those in the South East of the country i.e. Waterford.


South East Cockle Fishery

The cockle beds in the South East contain smaller low quality cockles. They do not grow as fast as the Dundalk Cockles.


Preliminary estimates suggest that approximately 200 tonnes of cockles were removed from Waterford Harbour in 2005. This is equivalent to levels harvested from Dundlak - Three years of harvests of this size led to the collapse of the Dundalk Cockle fishery.


Razor Clam Fishery

A larger than could be accommodated number of vessels adapted their gear to participate in the razor clam fishery which commenced in Ireland in the later 1990s. The larger east coast beds of E. siliqua in class A waters had been fished down to point where harvesting became uneconomic. Currently, there are virtually no landings to the west coast.Small razor beds for the species Ensis arcuatus on the western seaboard have been depleted and few E. siliqua are currently harvested there.


Hydraulic Dredging and Protected Areas

A legal precedent was set in relation to dredging for Cockles in protected areas in the E.U. Waddenzee Judgement.  This judgement decreed that ‘the competent authorities are to authorise activities ‘only if they have made certain it will not adversely affect the integrity of that site. That is the case where no reasonable scientific doubt remains as to the absence of such effects'.Cockle dredging was stopped due to its significant environmental damage'


The effects of Hydraulic dredging include:

  • Deep penetration of substrate (5-25 cm),
  • High re-suspension of material,
  • Removal and destruction of infauna.
  • Damage to juvenile cockles through serial discarding


The activity of the hydraulic dredges is to fluidise the seabed to the depth of the target species, in the case of razor clams this could be > 20cm. Effectively, much of the substrate and its constituents is entirely removed or relocated. Mortality of associated (soft bodied) organisms is very high and the impact is considered high in all instances


This is a high impact operation which disrupts the food chain/web and natural sedimentary processes.

An appropriate assessment must be undertaken to ensure that this activity will not adversely affect the integrity of the site.


Additional Information.

ECJ Ruling on the Waddenzee Cockle Fishery

An appropriate assessment implies that prior to the approval of a plan or project all aspects which can affect the site's conservation objectives must be identified using the ‘best scientific knowledge in the field'. The competent authorities are to authorise activities ‘only if they have made certain it will not adversely affect the integrity of that site. That is the case where no reasonable scientific doubt remains as to the absence of such effects'.

This ruling is important because it provides legal interpretation that is binding on all EU Member States, not just the Netherlands. As such, it can be expected to have significant implications for inshore, and potentially offshore, fisheries management where the issuing of annual licences could be made conditional upon appropriate assessments.

The prevailing view has often been that fishing licences restrict exploitation rather than permitting access. As a consequence, fishing licenses have, at least in some quarters, been considered a management tool contributing to the management of protected areas, and thus not requiring an appropriate assessment under Article 6(3) of the Directive. The Court ruling makes clear that this is not an acceptable interpretation of the Directive. This ruling is likely to have significant implications for DEFRA, the Sea Fisheries Committees and some operators.( Dirk Reyntjens Copyright IEEP 2004)

Table 1 and Figure 1 from Common Cockle in the Irish Sea by the Fisheries Science Services of the Marine Institute ( )


Table 1. The Dundalk Bay cockle fishery 2001-2004 inclusive, with details of the boat

dredge fishery. (source: DCMNR) - AMENDED by FIE to show estimated income.



Number of boats

Dredging season

Landings to dredgers (t)

Landings to rake (t)

Total landings (t)

Price per tonne

Total income

Average income per dredger (€)




August - December









2 to 3

May - December









8 to 10

January - December








2004(until July)

20 to 21

January - March;

June - December












Site Synopsis. National Parks & Wildlife Service


Site name: River Barrow and River Nore

Site code: 002162

This site consists of the freshwater stretches of the Barrow/Nore River catchments as far upstream as the Slieve Bloom Mountains and it also includes the tidal elements and estuary as far downstream as Creadun Head in Waterford.

Water Harbour is included in this candidate SAC site for its estuary, tidal mudflats, Salicornia mudflats, Atlantic salt meadows, Mediterranean salt meadows habitats - all habitats listed on Annex I of the E.U. Habitats Directive.

The site is also selected for the following species listed on Annex II of the same directive - Sea Lamprey, Twaite Shad, Atlantic Salmon, Otter, Vertigo moulinsiana and the plant Killarney Fern.

The rare Red Data Book fish species Smelt (Osmerus eperlanus) also occurs here.


Nationally important numbers of Golden Plover, and Bar-tailed Godwit are found during the winter. Wintering flocks of migratory birds.


Capital and maintenance dredging within the lower reaches of the system pose a threat to

migrating fish species such as lamprey and shad. 



Relevant Directives


Council Directive 79/923/EEC on the quality required of shellfish waters


Council Directive 79/409/EEC, the Birds Directive



Council Directive 92/43/EEC, the Habitats Directive


DIRECTIVE 2000/60/EC OF THE EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT AND OF THE COUNCIL of 23 October 2000 establishing a framework for Community action in the field of water policy ( )



Statutory Instruments - Quota Management

Sea Fisheries Secondary Legislation

The Sea-Fisheries and Maritime Jurisdiction Act 2006 (No. 8 of 2006) was signed into law on the 4th April 2006 by the President.

The 2006 Act allows for management of the State's fishing quota by means of Fishery Management Notices under section 12. These Notices will replace the monthly SIs and can be viewed by clicking here.

The 2006 Act also allows for Regulations to be made under sections 14 and 15 and these will be published as they come into force.


Statutory Instruments affecting Cockle Fishing.


No 2 of 2007

Cockle (Fisheries Management and Conservation) Regulations 2007


No 3 of 2007

Cockle (Fisheries Management and Conservation) (No 2)Regulations, 2007


No 269 of 2007

Cockle (Fisheries Management and Conservation)


Regulations, 2007

No 270 of 2007

Cockle (Fisheries Management and Conservation)


Regulations, 2007

S.I. No. 531 of 2007

Cockle (Fisheries Management and Conservation)


(Waterford Estuary) Regulations 2007

S.I. No. 532 of 2007

Cockle (Fisheries Management and Conservation)


(Dundalk Bay) Regulations 2007

S.I. No. 533 of 2007

Cockle (Fisheries Management and Conservation)


(Tramore Bay) Regulations 2007

SI No 692 of 2007

Cockle Fisheries Management Conservation (Dundalk Bay) Regulations 2007

 8 October 2007

Source Accessed 03 November 2007

Scallop, Whelk, Clam & Cockle fisheries distribution around the Irish coast
Map available at:

Other Sources of information.

Edward Fahy, Jim Carroll and Sean Murran (2005) The Dundalk cockle Cerastoderma edule fishery in 2003 - 2004. Irish Fisheries Investigations No 14: 16 pp.


WFD Fishing & Aquaculture Risk Assessment Methodology GUIDANCE ON THRESHOLDS AND METHODOLOGY TO BE APPLIED IN IRELAND'S RIVER BASIN DISTRICTS Paper by the Working Group on Characterisation and Risk Assessment - Guidance document)



Razor Clams on Mainly East Coast





Read the Coastwatch Press Release and background information.


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