Morecambe Bay is closed to cocklers

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The Independent Online

The scramble for cockles on Morecambe Bay, which led to the death of 23 Chinese people last year, has led conservationists to close the beds to preserve diminishing stocks.

The scramble for cockles on Morecambe Bay, which led to the death of 23 Chinese people last year, has led conservationists to close the beds to preserve diminishing stocks.

The rules governing cockle-picking stipulate that juvenile cockles should be left on the sand to ensure stocks are maintained. But the quest for shellfish to supply lucrative continental markets has been irresistible.

The North Western and North Wales Sea Fisheries Committee said yesterday that a ban would begin a week on Friday and would remain in place until stocks recover. "Fishing over the winter has depleted the adult stock of cockles, as would be expected," said the committee's senior scientist, Bill Cook. "Unfortunately our surveys [in March] found juvenile cockles are scarce in the bay."

The announcement confirmed what many experienced Cumbrian cocklers have feared for months: that the number of people scrambling to profit from the beds would render them unsustainable.

When the Fisheries Committee allocated licences, 250 were granted on the first day. Similar problems have affected the Dee Estuary in north Wales, which had Britain's first cockling ban in 1997. When it was reopened, 300 turned up on the first day.

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