Page last updated at 11:29 GMT, Friday, 27 June 2008 12:29 UK

Cockle deaths inquiry is ordered

A dead cockle
Experts have been looking into the reason for the dead cockles

An investigation into what has caused the deaths of thousands of tonnes of cockles in west Wales is to be carried out by Environment Agency.

Groups from fishing communities around Llanelli and Gower had been planning to petition the assembly government for a public inquiry into the problem.

Pollution from a nearby sewage works is one theory for the deaths but Welsh Water said it may involve many factors.

Several possible environmental causes for the deaths have been identified.

Around 6,000 tonnes of cockles off Gower have died threatening the future of the industry in the Burry Inlet.

Scientists from Bangor and Swansea universities have been working with the fishing community to try to discover the reason for the mortality rates.

Environment Minister Jane Davidson said Environment Agency Wales had advised her that the cause of the cockle mortalities was uncertain.

Recent tests show that healthy cockles are perfectly fit to eat provided that they have been processed and cooked properly
Coun Meryl Gravell, Carmarthenshire council

"There are many theories," she said.

"They include water quality, but there have also been suggestions that increases in water and air temperature, change in sediment depth, parasites, marine algae, density of cockles, lack of food and genetic similarities of the cockle populations may be causing the problems.

"It is important to properly investigate the cause."

A recent report in the Burry Inlet identified several environment factors that may be contributing to the mortalities and suggested that a co-ordinated project was required to determine the exact cause.

Rural Affairs minister Elin Jones said: "The Welsh Assembly Government appreciates the concerns of the shellfish industry, which stands to suffer significant losses from the huge numbers of cockles affected.

"It is vital to the local community that we ascertain the cause of death as soon as possible."


The leader of Carmarthenshire council coun Meryl Gravell said its public protection officers were continuing to take samples of the shellfish from the Burry Inlet and the Three Rivers fisheries to ensure they are fit for human consumption.

"Recent tests show that healthy cockles are perfectly fit to eat provided that they have been processed and cooked properly," she said.

"Carmarthenshire County Council also works in partnership with Environment Agency Wales to monitor bathing water quality on a weekly basis during the bathing season, and all water samples show that Carmarthenshire has good quality water meeting the relevant standards."

Environment Agency Wales Director Chris Mills said the assembly government wanted to see the other organisations involved playing a full part in the investigations.

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