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Commercial Fishing and Aquaculture

A thriving and historic industry defines much of the coast's character

Fishing in The Wash

The major fisheries of the two Wash ports Boston and King’s Lynn nowadays, are cockles, mussels, and brown shrimp.  Those fisheries are pursued in a seasonal pattern which is roughly:

  • cockles from late spring through until late autumn;
  • brown shrimps all year around, but mostly from late spring onwards with the peak season and effort from about the end of August up to Christmas, and some “shrimping” continuing after that in a mild winter;
  • market sized adult mussels from January to March or mid-April, and juvenile “seed” mussels during spring or as available;

Pink shrimp used to be a major fishery for Boston and King’s Lynn fishermen, on par with the other three fisheries.  The stocks are still there but the market demand declined several years ago, so that at present there is only one boat occasionally fishing pink shrimp.

The King’s Lynn fishing fleet

Other species are fished in The Wash and are important to individual fishermen, for example, some boats fish for whelks during the winter and spring, and a few boats from Wells-next-the-Sea visit The Wash to fish for crab.

Aquaculture in The Wash and North Norfolk Coast

Aquaculture is the growing of aquatic species, whether plants or animals, by people – the watery equivalent of farming on the land.  Cockles, mussels, and oysters, are all suitable for marine aquaculture and are grown within The Wash and at sites on the North Norfolk coast.


Mussels are the main aquaculture species in The Wash and North Norfolk.  Small seed mussels are bought in by the fishermen to be grown to a marketable size on “lays”, privately rented plots of seabed (sandbanks in The Wash, suitable margins of creeks and channels in North Norfolk).

Traditional mussel harvesting at Blakeney, Norfolk.

The small seed mussels are often found in dense beds at locations where they are extremely prone to loss in storms, siltation from shifting sandbanks, or aggressive predation by carpets of starfish.  Re-location by fishermen is then effectively utilisation of a natural resource, which could otherwise be lost.


Small cockles can be transplanted and grown on lays in the same way as mussels, although handling of the juvenile cockles is trickier and cockles generally prefer ground conditions to mussels.  There is much less cockle cultivation than mussel cultivation.  Cockle cultivation is generally aimed at the premium live trade for larger cockles.


Oysters are grown in bags on “trestles”, low tables raised just off the ground using the same techniques as in France.  It is a highly labour-intensive form of aquaculture, which requires significant up-front investment by the fisherman in equipment and seed oysters.  The oyster bags have to be regularly cleaned, and the oysters must be periodically graded as they grow.

Local Designations

North Norfolk Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty

Promoting an understanding and appreciation of North Norfolk's natural beauty and the importance of local sustainable development. Image credit, C. Knights More

RAMSAR Wetlands sites

Gibraltar Point, The Wash and North Norfolk have been designated RAMSAR sites to protect their wetlands and associated resources. Image Credit, S. Bosley. More

Sites of Special Scientific Interest

Gibraltar Point, The Wash and North Norfolk have been designated SSSI's in recognition of their important ecological and geological value to the UK. Image credit, C. Knights More

National Nature Reserves

Gibraltar Point, The Wash, Titchwell, Holme , Holkham, Cley and Blakeney coasts have all been designated NNR's to protect their habitats, species and geology. More

Cromer Shoal Marine Conservation Zone

Chalk beds are home to a beautiful diversity of sea-life such as sponges, algae, crabs and herring and are protected at Cromer, Norfolk. Image credit, Rob Spray and Dawn Watson. More

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