Shellfisheries: Several Orders and Regulating Orders

How to apply for orders to set up a private shellfishery or manage a natural shellfishery: powers to restrict fishing rights and issue licences.


The shellfish industry is an important contributor to the UK economy and is worth over £250 million annually. Shellfish farming, particularly of mussels and oysters, accounts for a large part of the industry.

There is special legislation to encourage the setting up and management of private and natural shellfisheries. Under the legislation, orders known as Several Orders and Regulating Orders may grant exclusive fishing or management rights within a designated area. Several Orders allow legal ownership of certain named shellfish species in a private shellfishery. Regulating Orders allow management rights to designated natural shellfisheries.

When a new order is granted it can have important implications for other parties, so the application process is very thorough. A formal procedure must be followed to make sure all views are considered.

This guide explains how the orders work to control shellfisheries. It also gives details of the application process.

Private shellfisheries

As well as being harvested from wild shellfisheries, where populations of shellfish occur naturally, shellfish is produced by private shellfisheries that are set up and improved for commercial exploitation.

Private shellfisheries are established to produce commercially valuable species such as oysters, mussels and clams. Shellfish farming in the UK is a multi-million pound business that produces thousands of tonnes of shellfish each year.

If you intend to set up an aquaculture production business (a fish or shellfish farm) then you will need to apply for authorisation before any development takes place. All fish and shellfish farms in the UK must be authorised to help prevent the introduction and spread of infectious diseases.

In England and Wales the Fish Health Inspectorate will advise you on the specific requirements you must meet for authorisation, and inspect your site before production starts. If everything is satisfactory then they will authorise your shellfish farm. Separate but similar inspection authorities authorise shellfish farms in Scotland and Northern Ireland.

Once your shellfish farm is authorised you will have to meet certain standards, including mandatory record keeping and adequate bio-security measures. You can find out more in the guide on fish and shellfish farm authorisation and registration. Your record keeping must include details of all movements of shellfish to and from your registered site.

To make sure that your shellfish farm remains disease free, inspectors will carry out checks and take samples on a regular basis.

Several Orders and Regulating Orders

The government can make orders to encourage the establishment and improvement of private shellfisheries and to improve the management of natural shellfisheries. There are two types of order:

  • Several Orders, which are granted for setting up or improving private shellfisheries
  • Regulating Orders, which give the right to manage exploitation of a natural shellfishery

Orders restrict fishing rights in a specific area of the sea or tidal waters in England, Wales or Scotland. They cover one or more named species of shellfish and are granted for a set period. Separate but similar arrangements apply in Northern Ireland.

Although both types of order can be made for up to 60 years, 10 to 20 years is more common for Several Orders and 20 to 30 years for Regulating Orders.

Which species can be covered by an order?

Both Several Orders and Regulating Orders can cover one or more of the following shellfish species:

  • oysters
  • mussels
  • clams
  • cockles
  • scallops
  • queen scallops (‘queens’ or ‘queenies’)
  • crabs
  • lobsters

Orders can also cover other types of mollusc and crustacea if specified.

Several Orders

Once you are given a Several Order you become the legal owner of the shellfish species covered by the order within a specified area. You then have the exclusive right to:

  • take the named shellfish species from the specified area
  • create and maintain shellfish beds
  • collect, move or deposit shellfish within the specified area

It is an offence for anyone else to disturb or injure the shellfish - or to interfere with the shellfish beds or the fishery itself - without authorisation from the order holder.

Several Orders normally place restrictions on general fishing practices in the area to prevent damage to the named species. They may also place conditions and restrictions on the order holder, for example, by specifying the shellfish harvesting methods that may be used.

Regulating Orders

A Regulating Order gives you the power to regulate and restrict fishing for, dredging, or otherwise taking shellfish covered by the order within a specified area. If you are given a Regulating Order for a natural shellfishery you can:

  • issue licences to others allowing them to take shellfish within the designated area
  • set conditions and restrictions that licence-holders must observe when they take shellfish
  • manage the shellfishery
  • exclude unlicensed people from the shellfishery

It is an offence for an unlicensed person to fish for, dredge, or take shellfish from the designated area.

Applying for an Order

Several Orders and Regulating Orders restrict the public right to fish in certain areas, so it’s important that they are carefully considered before being given. To protect the rights of anyone who has an interest in an area under consideration, all applications for an order must follow a formal procedure. For this reason it can take up to one year for an order to be granted.

Applications must be made to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) in England or to the Devolved Administrations in Scotland and Wales.

Before you apply

Before you apply for an order you need to find out if anybody holds one of the following private rights over the sea shore:

  • a right of fishery - which may be granted by special Acts of Parliament, Royal Charter or similar mechanisms
  • a right to carry on another activity

You will need the consent of these parties if you want to apply to create a shellfish order.

Consulting with other interested parties

It is a good idea for you to consult with other parties affected before an order is given. This can help you reduce the chances of objections being raised. Some examples of parties that might have an interest in an area covered by a proposed order include:

  • people who fish there on a commercial or recreational basis
  • other sports and recreational users
  • navigation and harbour authorities
  • Natural England and the Countryside Council for Wales
  • the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds

Submitting a management plan

When you submit an application for a Several Order or a Regulating Order you will also need to provide a detailed management plan. This must show what your intentions are for the area and for species covered by the order over a five-year period.

Download a management plan template from the Defra website (PDF, 54KB).

Formal procedure

When you apply for a Several Order or a Regulating Order you must follow a formal procedure to make sure your application is considered fairly. You will be responsible for any costs associated with your applications, such as environmental assessment and advertising costs.

The formal application procedure involves the following steps in England (a similar procedure applies in Scotland and Wales):

  1. Completion and submission of an application form, with written consents from owners of rights, a five-year management plan, two copies of the latest Admiralty chart of the area, company or corporate details if applicable, and an environmental statement if required.
  2. Preliminary consideration by Defra to decide whether the application should proceed further. At this stage the practical and commercial potential of the proposal is considered, as well as any legal obstacles, and conservation issues.
  3. Either notification of rejection, including reasons for this, or preparation of a draft order.
  4. Sending of the draft order to other government departments and interested bodies for comments.
  5. Assessment of comments and any amendments to the draft order, which is then sent to the applicant.
  6. Advertisement of the draft order in the local media - advertising is the applicant’s responsibility and must meet certain requirements.
  7. Receipt of any written objections and an opportunity to resolve these.
  8. Arrangement of a public inquiry, if necessary, to examine any significant objections that have not been withdrawn.
  9. Announcement of the decision by Defra.
  10. If the decision is made in the applicant’s favour, advertisement of the order in the local media including details of when it comes into force.
  11. Printing of the order.

The formal procedure must be followed in all cases, meaning that an application can be a lengthy process. It may take up to one year to obtain an order.

Grantees of both Several and Regulating Orders must also provide the granting Department with annual returns, detailing activity in the fishery on a yearly basis.

Further information

Several and Regulating Order application form on the website

Published 18 September 2012
Last updated 13 June 2013 + show all updates
  1. Fixing references to specialist guides

  2. First published.