Commercial cockle picking could cost one of Pembrokeshire's best known beaches its Blue Flag, campaigners claim.
People in Saundersfoot want commercial cockling banned
Professional gatherers are targeting supplies at Saundersfoot because a world-wide shortage of the shellfish has seen their market price rocket.
But local people have started a county-wide petition calling on the South Wales Sea Fisheries Committee (SWSFC) to ban commercial operations from all of Pembrokeshire's beaches.
However, the SWSFC says there are only enough cockles in Saundersfoot to sustain a few weeks of operations.
Campaigners say people using four-wheel drive vehicles to move the shellfish are a danger to holidaymakers and beach users generally and they jeopardise future Blue Flag awards which give assurances on the quality of beaches.
The cockle industry employs more than 100 people in south west Wales but most of the shellfish are harvested from the Burry Inlet between Gower and Llanelli.
However, the recent discovery of a bed of about 20 tonnes of cockles at Saundersfoot has seen increased activity there.
The petition, started by Saundersfoot resident Tony Edwards, has now spread to other towns including Pembroke Dock, Milford Haven and Tenby.
Mr Edwards said because of the possible impact on the region's tourism industry he had already won the backing of MP Nick Ainger.
"This is not just an issue for Saundersfoot but for the whole of Pembrokeshire," said Mr Edwards.
Fresh cockle beds have been discovered in the Pembrokeshire resort
"To get a Blue Flag beaches are not just tested on water quality but also on issues such as whether there are lifeguards, any dangers or pollution.
"Vehicles on the beach would be something that could jeopardise the Blue Flag status.
"There are a lot of older people and tourists who take cockles for their own personal use and I'm not against that. It has been going on for eons.
"I just don't think it should be touched commercially."
The SWSFC, which regulates cockle gathering in the region, said commercial operations in Pembrokeshire were nothing new.
Spokesman Mark Stafford said there had been increased activity in Saundersfoot in recent weeks after the discovery of a bed of around 20 tonnes of the shellfish.
He said restrictions were in place limiting people to hand gathering and daylight hours but there were no plans to introduce further limitations.
"There is a very high market demand for cockles at the moment because there are very few cockles in the Netherlands which is the main supplier," he said.
"The beach at Saundersfoot is next to the harbour and people wanting to pick the cockles there are accessing the beach with vehicles."
The beds at the resort could only sustain a few weeks commercial gathering and then the operators would be gone, he said.