There are a variety of commercial activities that go on in and around the Exe Estuary. The ranges from farming to fishing activities including shellfisheries. All users are asked to avoid disturbing wildlife on the Exe Estuary, particularly within two areas known as wildlife refuges which have been introduced to protect important feeding and roosting grounds. For more information please visit our wildlife designations page.
Farming is an integral part of our landscape that has undergone numerous pressures in recent years and now more than ever needs our support and custom. Through careful management farming has the potential to enhance wildlife and biodiversity.
The majority of the farmland adjacent to the Exe Estuary is grazed for beef production. This mainly occurs on the low-lying areas where damp soils and the likelihood of flooding restricts the production of arable crops e.g. the lowest part of the Clyst Valley and most of the Exminster and Powderham marshes.
There is very little grazing for dairy production on the Exe except for in the Clyst Valley. Arable farming constitutes the remainder of the farmed landscape mainly along the margins of the Clyst, along the valley of Kenn, and on the drier parts of the land behind Starcross and Dawlish Warren.
Fish and Shellfish are an essential part of the aquatic environment and healthy stocks are a key indicator of the health of the environment, such as water quality. The fishing industry is a historically and culturally important aspect of the Exe, providing locally caught fresh seafood. There is a delicate balance to be found between exploitation of stocks and providing locally caught sustainable food.
Different fishing activities can be conducted within the Exe Estuary; however please be aware that many are regulated, and some activity conducted both commercially and recreationally is prohibited and is therefore illegal. Different legislation can apply to shore and boat related fishing activity and some fishing methods such as potting, netting and diving for crab, lobster and scallops require the issue of a D&S IFCA permit. Fisheries legislation is often complicated and subject to change. For that reason, it is recommended that you visit the Devon and Severn IFCA website, the Marine Management Organisation website, and for freshwater fisheries legislation, the Environment Agency website.
Shellfish Shellfish beds are the basis of an important and varied fishery which local residents have managed for generations and which has provided marketable grades of cockles, winkles, oysters and mussels.
Mussel and oyster beds are present on the Estuary between Powderham and Starcross, in the mouth of the Estuary and on the East of the estuary near Lympstone. Molluscan shellfish farming is the largest single commercial fishery on the Exe. The industry is based on the growing on of Pacific Oysters on racks on the foreshore and the rearing of Mussels in beds. The main shell fisherman on the estuary, with the rights to these grounds, is Myles Blood-Smyth of Exmouth Mussels. Exe mussels are on the menu of various restaurants around the Estuary such as The Seafood Restaurant in Exmouth (see our places to eat section for more information).
With the gradual decline of shipping towards the end of the 19th century shellfish collection and salmon fishing became the main industries in the Exe Estuary. Exeter museum has an exhibit showing the largest salmon ever caught in the Exe at 42 inches and 62.25lbs!
Under the Salmon and Freshwater Fisheries Act (1975) the Environment Agency has a general duty to maintain, improve and develop salmon, trout and freshwater fish and eel fisheries under its jurisdiction. Illegal exploitation of salmonids in the Exe has in the past been a major cause of concern. Levels of poaching on the freshwater river have declined in recent years, but there are concerns regarding illegal exploitation in the estuary by fishermen using drift nets. The River Exe Salmon Action Plan was published in December 2003 by the Environment Agency and sets out the byelaws regarding national salmon and rod fishing.
Rod fishing byelaws protect fish stocks. These regional byelaws apply to all waters in England, whether they are owned by angling clubs, local councils or private individuals. Owners may impose additional rules but the byelaws must still apply to their water.
Anyone fishing with a rod and line must hold a rod fishing licence and comply with both national and regional byelaws that cover the waters where they are fishing. Rod fishing byelaws for the south west region can be found on the Environment Agency website.
Net fishing for salmon is not currently permitted on the Exe in response to the international decline in salmon stocks. Salmon stock numbers are currently among the lowest on record and are below sustainable levels in many rivers. Further information can be found on the Environment Agency website.
If anyone suspects nets are being set illegally they can call the Environment Agency on a free phone hotline on 0800 807060.
There are many restrictions in place to protect bass which are subject to change and it is recommended that you check current legislation by visiting either the D&S IFCA website or the Marine Management Organisation website. The Exe Estuary is a bass nursery area (active for part of the year) which means that no bass can be targeted by fishers using vessels. The use of live sand eel for bait is also prohibited when the nursery area is active. Fixed and drift netting is prohibited within the Exe Estuary and at certain times of the year a bag limit of one fish or no fish per day applies for recreational fishers operating ashore and with a vessel
Other Fisheries Activities
There are some small scale recreational or low scale commercial gathering of whelks, winkles, cockles, clams, oysters and the digging for lugworm and rag worm for bait. The Exe Bait Collectors Code of Conduct contains guidance on how to ‘farm’ the estuary in a way that respects nature, sustaining stocks, both now and in the future.
Angling for estuarine bass, salmon, flounder and mullet is a very popular sport on the Exe.
D&S IFCA introduced on 1st May 2019 a temporary closure in the Exe that prohibits the removal of mussel from the public beds. D&S IFCA is developing a new Hand Working Permit Byelaw that will potentially manage hand collection of species such as cockles, mussels, winkles, whelks, worms and seaweed. There is a D&S IFCA Byelaw in place that prohibits the removal of winkles that will pass through a gauge within a square opening of 16mm over each side of the square. There are restrictions in place to protect bass including restrictions on netting (no fixed or drift nets within the Exe Estuary), a minimum conservation reference size (42cm), bag limits and a bass nursery area which is active between 30th April and 1st November each year. For more information on fisheries legislation please visit www.devonandsevernifca.gov.uk.
The Exe Shore Code of Conduct also includes further guidance for anglers.
Crab tiling is the collection of peeler crabs from the intertidal mudflats on the estuary. In order to grow crabs must leave their hardened case (exoskeleton), expand by taking on sea water and then harden their skin to create a new exoskeleton. When going through this process the crab is called a peeler crab as it is peeling out of its skin. Before the skin is hardened again the crab is very vulnerable to predation so will look for sheltered areas to wait out the process.
The bait collectors each have their own sets of crab tiles on the estuary which are generally sections of drain pipe or roof tiles that the peeler crabs will shelter under. On collection, the crabs are sold or used as fishing bait for anglers.
Crab tiling has taken place for many years and local crab tilers often recall their grandfather’s crab tiling on the same site.
Surveys of the amount of crab tiles present on the estuary have taken place since 2000 and in 2016 it was estimated that the number of tiles on the Exe was 23,833. A D&S IFCA Byelaw (Harvesting of Shore Crab) prohibits the removal of shore crab (by any method) in defined areas within the Exe Estuary. The use of crab tiles is also partially managed by a voluntary code; however, D&S IFCA are now in the process of developing a new permit-based byelaw that will help to manage this and other hand working fishing activity within their district which includes the Exe Estuary.
Many businesses are in place to support the marine leisure industry on the Exe such as ferries, boatyards, marine engineers and moorings. Our Exe Water Users Code of Conduct page contains information for all water users, from large commercial boats to small kayaks.
Major Marinas and Harbours
An independent marina for visitors and contract berth holders, for long or short term. Berths can accommodate vessels of up to 15 metres in length, from ribs and jet-skis to yachts and fishing boats.
The Docks, Exmouth EX8 1DU
Phone: 01395 269314
A private harbour leased from The Crown Estate to the Cockwood Boat Club and Harbour Commissioners. Access to the harbour is very limited due to tide and two low railway bridges. Only very small craft are therefore able to enter the harbour. Whilst reclamation of the marsh and the enclosure of the harbour by the railway has dramatically altered the appearance of Cockwood Harbour, its charm has not been destroyed.
Cockwood, Exeter EX6 8RA
Phone: 01626 891375
W Trout & Son Ltd
Full boatyard service – repair, supply, fit, store, marine engineering, etc.
Ferry Road, Topsham, Exeter EX3 0JJ
Phone: 01392 873044
Chandlery, brokerage, repairs and storage etc.
Retreat Drive, Topsham, Exeter EX3 0LS
Phone: 01392 874720
M S Marine Services
The Boatyard, Lorry Park, The Royal Avenue, Exmouth
Phone: 01395 275648 or 07710 950339