Introduction to the Wales seafood industry

The Wales seafood industry is a vibrant and diverse business that boasts a range of traditional fisheries plus a number of innovative shellfish aquaculture operations. Top quality seafood is landed daily at ports, harbours, and even beaches along the length of the Welsh coast, from Cardiff to Connah's Quay.

With a fleet of over 460 licensed vessels employing 850 full-time and part-time fishermen, Wales' seafood industry is significant to the local economy and vital for the long term sustainability of many coastal communities.

Approximately 75% of the Welsh fleet is made up of small fishing vessels under 8 metres, some no larger than dinghies. At the other end of the scale, some of our largest vessels operate from the ports of Milford Haven, Holyhead, and Porth Penrhyn. All bring ashore fantastic fresh produce for distribution within Wales, the UK, as well as further afield to export markets where the quality of Welsh seafood is highly prized.

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Key seafood sectors

Inshore fisheries

The inshore fisheries of Wales primarily target shellfish such as crab, lobster, whelk and scallop. We also have a number of small-scale net, line and trawl fisheries for high quality fish such as sea bass, sole, monkfish, skate and ray.

Pot fishing

Selective, low impact pot fishing is the dominant method of fishing in Wales. Crab, lobster, whelk and prawn are caught in strings of baited pots, marked with a buoy at either end. These pots are laid on different areas of the seabed at different times of year depending on the species being targeted.

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The size of individual crab, lobster, whelk and prawn that can be landed are controlled by Minimum Landing Sizes (MLS), which specify the smallest size at which a species can be kept and brought ashore.  Any individuals caught that are smaller than this MLS are returned to sea to help maintain healthy stocks.

Netting

Fish, skate and ray are caught in nets laid in sheltered areas around the Welsh coast. Different types of net, including gill, trammel, drift and tangle nets, are used in different areas at different times, depending on the species targeted.

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Beach seine fishing also happens in certain areas, targeting fish such as salmon and sewin (sea trout) when they are close to the shore. This traditional form of fishing with nets from the shore has been used in Wales for around 900 years.

The mesh size of nets is tightly regulated to help ensure that juvenile fish and non-target species are able to swim free, reducing bycatch and allowing juveniles to return and contribute to the stock.

Scallop fishing

The scallop fisheries off the Welsh coast target the larger king scallop and the smaller queen scallop. Both king and queen scallop are fished using dredges that pick scallops off the seabed and deposit them in a mesh bag ready for hauling to the surface. Scallops are found in areas where the seabed is largely composed of coarse sands and gravels. These areas tend to be very dynamic environments with fast flowing tides which are quick to recover after disturbance.

The king scallop fishery in Wales is highly valuable and tightly regulated. Management measures include restrictions on the numbers of dredges permitted per vessel, closed areas to protect important and vulnerable habitats, and a closed season (April to October).Further measures include a Minimum Landing Size (MLS), and the requirement for all vessels targeting scallop to have Inshore Vessel Monitoring System (IVMS) equipment installed, so that their activity can be tracked.

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The scallop industry in Wales has recently called for further improvements to scallop management to be made, in order to better ensure a long-term sustainable and profitable future for the fisheries. Welsh Government is currently undertaking a consultation on these new management proposals.

Trawling

There are a very small number of trawlers operating from Wales. These trawlers predominantly target mixed, demersal fisheries, landing a range of species such as monkfish (anglerfish), megrim, sole and plaice.

The amount of each species that can be landed is strictly controlled by quota, and the size of fish landed is controlled by Minimum Landing Sizes (MLS). In addition to this, selectivity devices such as escape panels in nets are required to allow juvenile fish to swim out of the net before it is hauled to the surface, helping to preserve healthy stocks.

 

Intertidal fisheries

Wales has a rich cockle fishing heritage. The two largest intertidal cockle fisheries in Wales today are the Burry Inlet fishery in the Loughor Estuary and Dee Estuary fishery in north Wales, where cockles are hand-gathered from productive sand flats that are exposed at low tide.

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The same traditional hand-gathering techniques that have been practiced for generations are still used today. Cockles are hand-raked at low tide, sieved onsite using riddles (riddling) and collected in net sacks for carrying ashore. Riddling in-situ allows gatherers to sort out any cockles that are below the Minimum Landing Size (MLS) and return them directly to where they were gathered from. This allows the small cockles to re-burrow and breed.

 

Aquaculture

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Another important source of top quality seafood in Wales is from the aquaculture sector. Wales is home to one of the largest mussel farms in the UK, situated in the highly productive Menai Strait, which is a narrow, fast flowing channel of sea which divides mainland Wales and Anglesey. Wales also boasts  an innovative rope-grown mussel farm situated in the clean waters of Queens Dock, Swansea. Farmed oysters are also grown in bags attached to metal trestles on the shore in sheltered areas around the coast.

 

Onshore

Selling Seafood

Once ashore, seafood landed in Wales is bought directly from fishermen by fish buyers. The buyers then sell locally, nationally, and internationally, with Welsh seafood finding its way into kitchens and on to plates across the UK and around the world.

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Processors in Wales range in size from small-scale, cottage industries dressing crab and lobster for sale in local hotels, restaurants and markets, to facilities that process large volumes of whelk, cockle or scallop, for UK markets or export.

Buying seafood

Wales has a number of top quality fishmongers, restaurants and fish and chip shops that offer seafood caught or farmed locally in Welsh waters.

With such a wealth of seafood on the doorstep, it's no surprise that Wales has such a rich and vibrant foodservice sector.
As well as an impressive range of restaurants, fish and chip shops, and fishmongers, Wales also has a number of celebrated seafood festivals, which all contribute to the quality of seafood on offer. You can find more local seafood supplier information here.