Why has commercial culture of cockles not taken off?

Basket Cockles

These native Basket (Nuttal’s) cockles (Clinocardium nuttallii) were recovered as wild recruits by-catch in an off-bottom research project in Deep Bay this December – that essentially means that they are approximately six months post settlement, a phenomenal growth potential. Somehow though, the potential of this species for aquaculture in BC as yet to be realized.

Basket Cockles

Another photo with a scale reference – the calipers are set to 39mm the “legal” size for Manila clams which generally takes a minimum of three growing season to achieve. Back in the 1980’s many attempts were made to establish techniques for growing Manila clams off-bottom with no success. Something our research has shown is possible for cockles.

Here are the Pro’s for why this species should be at the top of the list for new species:

  1. Fastest potential growth rate of any species under consideration: 1 season for “steamer” product and 2 seasons for product with  potential use of the foot for sushi – think Hokkigai (surf clam) replacement.  Compare that >3yrs for Manila Clams,  >1.5 years for oysters and mussels, >2 years for scallops, >6 years for geoducks and no one really knows how long it is going to take for sea cucumbers in BC (yet everyone wants to jump in).
  2. The ability to be grown off-bottom at high densities with great survival. Think tonnes per raft capability. This means that potential for expansion is also enormous.
  3. Strong performance for broodstock conditioning, hatchery, settlement and nursery performance see our research papers below for details.
  4. Hardy – able to handle a wide range of temperatures and salinities.
  5. High popularity in export markets – we regularly get calls from Spanish importers looking for staggering amounts.
  6. Beautiful presentation with colourful shell.
  7. High meat yield, good separation from shell and no grit in cooking (see below for example)
  8. Excellent taste – in fact, cockles are typically considered second only to abalone in most BC First Nation cultures.
  9. No existing wild fisheries which means no fisheries conflicts and ensuing policy issues preventing development such as has been happening for geoducks and sea cucumbers

Cockles being on-grown in oyster trays in some of our previous work.

The reason Cockles have not taken off has generally been related to two Cons:

  1. No established market and value chain in BC for this species.  This really shouldn’t be an issue, it is just a stumbling block.  With no existing accounts or users that means that small growers who try to bring this on-line are going to have to find adventurous small accounts who will help develop customers or come on line with significant volumes that would allow entry into larger export or immigrant specialty markets.  Either way this means risk.
  2. SHORT SHELF LIFE – this is the reason that is always brought up.  Fresh cockles handled the same way as clams have about half the shelf life, usually less than a week – which is very short for fresh products.  We just see this as a research question that needs to be answered like anything else; what is the biological reason for short shelf life?  Would modified atmosphere packaging (MAP) fix the issue?  What about potential for frozen?  What other techniques can be developed?  Surely we are clever enough to figure out a fix.

When the Centre for Shellfish Research set out to look at cockle culture we did so in a comprehensive step-wise manner.  Aided by ACRDP funding and in conjunction with Chris Pearce at DFO, our work first looked at broodstock conditioning, then larval culture, followed by settlement techniques and nursery culture.  From the progeny of these studies, we then examined intertidal and deep water culture methodologies finding successful potential at each step.   We were not able to convince our previous funders to let us complete the production cycle and examine the shelf life and transport issues in the value chain.  To date we have been unable to find a funding partner to help us take this through in a comprehensive manner, we’re still looking.  Once we do, we hope we will be able to produce all the data to move beyond scientific studies and produce that which is needed for full production cycle and value chain business planning.  There are number of programs such as NRC_IRAP that could be accessed to assist with funding but it will require a significant industry contribuiton

Here the papers produced so far:

Gurney-Smith, H., Liu, W., Alabi, A., Epelbaum, A. & Pearce, C. (2009). Development of a new potential aquaculture species: the Basket cockle (Clinocadrium nuttallii). Aquaculture Update 103: 1-5

Basket cockle (Clinocardium nuttallii): candidate commercial aquaculture species in British Columbia. Aquaculture Collaborative Research Development Program Fact Sheet. 16:DFO/2012-1852.

Epelbaum, A., Gurney-Smith, H., Yuan, S., Plamondon, N., & Pearce, C.M. (2013). Aquaculture potential of the basket cockle (Clinocardium nuttallii) in British Columbia, Canada. Part 2: effects of stocking density and depth on second year grow-out performance of three size cohorts in intertidal and off-bottom suspended culture systems. Aquaculture Research. 44(8):1277-99.

Epelbaum, A., Gurney-Smith, H., Yuan, S., Plamondon, N., & Pearce, C.M. (2013). Aquaculture potential of the basket cockle (Clinocardium nuttallii) in British Columbia, Canada. Part 1: effects of stocking density on first year grow-out performance cohorts in intertidal and off-bottom suspended culture systems. Aquaculture Research. 44(8):1236-53.

Liu, W., Pearce, C.M., Beerens, A., & Gurney-Smith, H. (2011). Effects of stocking density, ration and temperature on growth of post-larvae of the basket cockle, Clinocardium nuttallii. Aquaculture. 320:129-36.

Liu, W., Gurney-Smith, H., Beerens, A., & Pearce, C.M. (2011). Effects of stocking density, algal density and temperature on growth and survival of larvae of the basket cockle Clinocardium nuttallii. Aquaculture. 299:99-105.

Epelbaum, A., Pearce, C.M., Yuan, S., Plamondon, N., & Gurney-Smith, H. (2010). Stocking density and substratum effects on survival, growth and burrowing behaviour of juvenile basket cockle, Clinocardium nuttallii: implications for nursery seed production and field outplanting. Aquaculture Research. 42(7):975-86.

Liu, W., Pearce, C.M., Alabi, A.O., & Gurney-Smith, H. (2009). Effects of microalgal diets on the growth and survival of larvae and post-larvae of the basket cockle, Clinocardium nuttallii. Aquaculture. 293(3-4):248-54.

Liu W, AO Alabi, CM Pearce. 2008. Broodstock conditioning in the basket cockle, Clinocardium nuttallii. Journal of Shellfish Research, Vol.27, pg.399-404
Liu W, AO Alabi, CM Pearce. 2008. Fertilization and embryonic development in the basket cockle, Clinocardium nuttallii. Journal of Shellfish Research, Vol.27, pg.393-397

Basket Cockles

The same cockles from first photo after steaming in wine and lemon….

Basket Cockles

172 grams of meats from 36 cockles (4.8 gm/per) with 100% opening. In previous work we found an average 40% meat yield in yearling cockles.

Basket Cockles

Basket Cockles

Interested in supporting this research as an industry or funding partner? Drop us a line, we’d love to chat.


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