Pipis in peril
Stretching almost as far as the eye can see people harvest pipis at Venus Bay in the Cape Liptrap Coastal Park, December 2013. Photo courtesy of Friends of Venus Bay Peninsula Inc
By Chris Smyth, VNPA Marine & Coastal Coordinator
Published 11 March 2015
When it announced new management arrangements for commercial pipi harvesting in Cape Liptrap and Discovery Bay coastal parks just days before the caretaker period last year, the then Napthine Government intensified community concerns about the future for pipis on Victoria's beaches.
Already under enormous pressure from recreational harvesting, and amid signs that pipi numbers are in dramatic decline, the decision on commercial harvesting in the coastal parks is irresponsible.
Pipis are small bivalve molluscs found up to 100mm below the surface of high-energy Australian beaches from southern Queensland to the mouth of the Murray River in South Australia. They mature at about one year and at around 37mm in size across the shell, can grow up to 80mm, and live for three to five years.
For food they filter phytoplankton from the water flowing through the intertidal beach sand, while in turn they become food for shorebirds such as the pied oystercatcher.
In Victoria pipis are found at only a few locations where their numbers are sufficient to support either commercial or recreational harvesting: the beaches of Discovery Bay Coastal Park, in western Victoria, and between Wilsons Promontory and Point Smythe in the Cape Liptrap Coastal Park.
The Cape Liptrap and Discovery Bay coastal parks aim to protect coastal nature while also providing opportunities for appropriate recreation, education and tourism, including recreational pipi harvesting (commercial harvesting is not a permitted use in either park plan).
However, it is highly unlikely that when the plans were prepared in 2003 and 2004 it was envisaged that on some days there would be up to 2000 people taking pipis from Venus Bay beach. This current scale of pipi harvesting is inappropriate in a coastal park.
Along with declining pipi stocks, the collateral impacts of pipi harvesting are damage to coastal dune habitats from recreational harvesters accessing the beach, the loss of food for shorebirds such as the pied oystercatcher, and the disturbance of beach-nesting birds like the endangered hooded plover.
Fisheries Victoria has poorly managed recreational pipi harvesting and has now increased the pressure on pipis by promoting commercial harvesting. The agency's claims that pipi harvesting is sustainable cannot be supported by the very limited science available.
VNPA believes that urgent action is required to resolve the environmental issues being caused by pipi harvesting and is urging the Victorian Government to:
- Introduce a 12-month moratorium on commercial pipi harvesting in coastal parks.
- Close parts of the coastal parks to recreational harvesting to allow pipi recovery and assist scientific studies.
- Establish an ongoing science-based pipi monitoring program.
- Conduct a comprehensive assessment of the ecological sustainability of pipi harvesting.
- Implement a multi-lingual education program to encourage pipi conservation among recreational harvesters.
- Ensure that the responsible agency for permitting and managing pipi harvesting in coastal parks is Parks Victoria, not Fisheries Victoria.
- Review the appropriateness of pipi harvesting in coastal parks.