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Victoria’s prized shellfish, known as the pipi, is found beneath the waves in the intertidal areas of Victorian beaches. Pipi has long been under pressure from recreational harvesting, and in more recent years new management arrangements for commercial fishing.

Pipi used to be known as their use as bait, but have since have been wildly promoted as a tasty table addition, further driving catch and consumption.

Until now there has been an absence of a Pipi Fishery Management Plan to guide management. The Victorian Fisheries Authority (VFA), has released a draft Victorian Pipi Fishery Management Plan and is seeking input on the future management of the fishery.

The draft plan is available online at www.vfa.vic.gov.au/pipiplan and submissions must be made by 13 July 2018.

VNPA believes the draft plan has significant gaps, and we are concerned that if approved in its current format will pose significant threats to the future viability of Victoria’s pipi fishery and surrounding coastal parks.

The issues we are concerned about:

  1. Pipi harvesting is currently (and poses future) inappropriate use of coastal parks.

Pipi harvesting could take place both commercially and recreationally along most areas of the Victorian coast, including two parks already identified under the draft plan – Cape Liptrap and Discovery Bay coastal parks. Harvesting not only impacts pipi, but also:

  • impacts from trolleys or other vehicles that illegally operate within these fragile coastal parks to haul their huge catches up the beach;
  • other species such as shore birds that use the parks for feeding and breeding;
  • damaging fragile coastal dune habitats from recreational harvesters accessing the beach;
  • loss of food for shorebirds such as the pied oystercatcher;
  • disturbance of beach nesting birds like the endangered hooded plover.

Access points have been developed for commercial fishers to more easily access the Discovery Bay fishery, and have been abused by the illegal use of motorised vehicles on beaches, which is an inappropriate use under the reserves original purpose. The draft plan states that the VFA will work to improve beach access points and methods across the state. The illegal use of vehicles on beaches sets a bad precedent for coastal management across the state, in which 96 per cent of the coast is publically managed land, were vehicle use has been heavily restricted for decades.

Coastal parks were not set up to handle large amounts of commercial activity in the first place, and were not in operation at the time many coastal park management plans were created. There doesn’t seem to be consideration in the draft plan of how the fishery impacts will be managed in other coastal parks around the state. Nor is there any consultation with other Aboriginal communities on impacts on cultural values for areas other than Discovery Bay.

The other issue that this raises is where does access for other uses stop? Our coasts are protected as coastal parks for a reason, and need to stay that way, especially with added pressure from sea level rise and climate change.

VNPA Recommendations:

  • Establish a moratorium on the commercial harvesting of pipi in all coastal parks across Victoria including Cape Liptrap and Discovery Bay coastal parks where a history of fishing occurs. In the time of the moratorium commission an independent review on:
    • appropriateness of pipi harvesting in coastal parks;
    • research into coastal ecological impacts from pipi harvesting – recreationally and commercially on coastal parks and the species protected within them – such as Cape Liptrap and Discovery Bay.
  • Ensure Parks Victoria is the sole manager of coastal park values and uses, with sufficient resources to ensure that values are protected, and at a minimum a veto over Fisheries plans.
  • Develop a proposed management response to moderate risks identified in the draft plan including the impact on beaches, interactions with threatened and endangered species and cultural sites other than Discovery Bay.
  1. Commercial pipi harvesting Victoria wide may not be sustainable

Commercial pipi harvesting is continuing to be opened up across the state (excluding the Venus Bay ‘recreational only’ area), when previously there has been little pipi harvesting done in areas such as western and eastern Victoria. These unexplored areas will be promoted and remain open to commercial fishing, despite the lack of scientific biological baseline data to tell us if the fishery is sustainable or not.

A report from the Fisheries and Research Development Corporation (FRDC)Status of key Australian fish stocks reports 2014’ has classified pipi in Victoria as an ‘undefined stock’, as there is insufficient information available to confidently classify the status of this stock. In South Australia on the other hand it has been classified as ‘sustainable stock’.

There is only very limited completed research to date that tells us information about the stock status of pipi, and that suggest the pipi stocks are sustainable. Most has to do with recreational harvesting in Venus Bay, and none did a thorough ecosystem-based assessment of pipi harvesting to establish baseline data of the fishery.

VNPA recommendations:

  • Without knowing if the fishery is sustainable or not, there should be a precautionary management approach taken until known. There needs to be an ecosystem-based assessment of pipi harvesting to establish baseline data, and an ongoing monitoring program to enable an ecological sustainability assessment of the fishery (commercial and recreational sectors).
  1. Victoria proposed regulation is out of step with other states

South Australia has set a minimum legal length of  3.5 centimetres for recreational pipi harvesting. New South Wales has a bag limit of 50 pipi in total. Victoria does not have any size restrictions on the harvest of pipi for recreational use, and the current bag limit is 2 litres. Given that pipi are already under enormous pressure from both commercial and recreational harvesting, and in the absence of size at maturity estimates for Victoria, there should be a review looking into the feasibility of:

  • The current bag limits for recreational harvesting (to reduce recreational harvesting for commercial use).
  • Introducing a minimum size limit on recreational pipi harvest (in line with other states)
  • Investigation into the number of recreational harvesters at Venus Bay which could feed into the ecological sustainability of pipi harvesting as mentioned earlier.

There have been reports of up to 2,000 recreational fishers at one location at Venus Bay. If every harvester collects the maximum allowable limit, that is up to 4,000 litres per any one day that could be taken – at a single beach!