Introduction to the Wales seafood industry
With a fleet of over 400 licensed vessels employing 1,193 full-time and part-time fishermen, Wales' seafood industry is important to the local economy. It’s also vital for the long-term sustainability of many coastal communities. Quality Welsh seafood is highly prized in the export market.
Approximately 73% of the Welsh fleet is made up of small fishing vessels under eight metres, some of which are no larger than dinghies. Larger vessels tend to operate from the ports of Milford Haven, Holyhead, and Porth Penrhyn.
The Welsh inshore fisheries land shellfish such as crab, lobster, whelk and scallop. We also have small-scale net, line and trawl fisheries for high quality fish such as sea bass, sole, monkfish, skate and ray.
Selective, low impact pot fishing is the main method of fishing. Crab, lobster, whelk and prawn are caught in strings of baited pots, marked with a buoy at either end.
These pots are laid around the seabed at different times of year depending on the species being caught.
The size of single crab, lobster, whelk and prawn that can be landed are controlled by minimum landing sizes (MLS). These identify the smallest size at which a species can be kept and brought ashore.
Any individuals caught that are smaller than the MLS specification are returned to sea to help maintain healthy stocks.
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 are used in different areas at different times, depending on the species.
Beach seine fishing happens in areas focusing on 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 net mesh size is controlled to ensure young fish and non-target species can swim free. This reduces bycatch and allows youngsters to return and contribute to the stock.
The scallop fisheries catch the larger king and the smaller queen scallops. Both king and queen are fished using dredges that pick them off the seabed. They are placed in a mesh bag ready for bringing to the surface.
Scallops are found where the seabed is largely of coarse sands and gravels. These areas can have fast flowing tides but are quick to recover after disturbance.
The king scallop fishery is valuable and has numerous control measures in place to protect the fishery and the environment. These include:
- limiting numbers of dredges permitted per vessel
- closing areas to protect important and at-risk habitats
- and operating a closed season from April to October.
Others include a minimum landing size (MLS), and the need for all scallop vessels to have Inshore Vessel Monitoring System (IVMS) equipment, so their activity can be followed.
The Welsh scallop industry has called for further improvements in management to be made. This is to ensure a long-term sustainable and profitable future for the fishery.
There are a small number of Welsh trawlers. They are mainly target mixed, demersal fisheries, landing a range of species such as monkfish, megrim, sole and plaice.
Quota controls the amount of each species that can be landed. The size of fish landed is controlled by Minimum Landing Sizes (MLS). Selectivity devices such as escape panels in nets are required to allow young fish to swim out of the net before it is brought to the surface, helping to preserve healthy stocks.
Wales has a rich cockle fishing heritage. The two largest intertidal cockle fisheries are the Burry Inlet fishery in the Loughor Estuary, south Wales; and the Dee Estuary fishery in north Wales, where cockles are hand-gathered from sand flats that are exposed at low tide.
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 and collected in net sacks for carrying ashore. Riddling allows gatherers to sort out any cockles that are below the Minimum Landing Size (MLS) and return them to where they were gathered from. This allows small cockles to re-burrow and breed.
Aquaculture is important in Wales. It is home to one of the largest mussel farms in the UK, situated in the highly productive Menai Strait. This is a narrow, fast flowing channel of sea separating mainland Wales and Anglesey.
Wales also has an innovative rope-grown mussel farm situated in the clean waters of Queens Dock, Swansea. It has some Recirculating Aquaculture Systems (RAS) farms producing cleaner fish and other novel species.
Farmed oysters are also grown in bags attached to metal trestles on the shore in sheltered areas around the coast.
Wales has a strong aquaculture research community with a number of research and development companies, and technology developers, serving the global aquaculture industry.
Buying and selling Welsh seafood
Seafood landed in Wales is bought directly from fishermen by fish buyers. Welsh seafood finds its way into kitchens and on to plates across the UK and around the world.
Welsh seafood processors range in size. From small-scale processors that prepare shellfish for sale in local hotels, restaurants and markets, to businesses that produce large volumes of whelk, cockle or scallop, for UK markets or export.
Wales has fishmongers, restaurants and fish and chip shops that offer seafood caught or farmed in Welsh waters. It has a rich and vibrant foodservice sector due to the abundance of seafood.
It also has many celebrated seafood festivals. You can find more on local seafood supplier information