A study commissioned by Venus Bay residents found recreational harvesting of pipis was having a substantial impact on the beach. Photo: Eddie JimRenewed commercial shellfish harvesting along a popular Victorian beach has sparked fears of irreversible environmental damage and infuriated locals.
The decision to allow commercial harvesting of pipis in Venus Bay in South Gippsland is controversial as the beach already attracts many “recreational” harvesters.
Recreational harvesting has proliferated in recent years causing tensions with residents who say many collectors ignore rules on daily catch limits, resulting in depleted stocks.
The Victorian National Parks Association has slammed commercial harvesting in Cape Liptrap Coastal Park, which includes Venus Bay, citing concerns that pipi numbers are in “serious decline”. The association is calling for a 12-month moratorium of commercial harvesting in Cape Liptrap.
Victorian National Parks Association marine and coastal co-ordinator Chris Smyth said too little was known about the impact of harvesting on pipi stocks.
“There needs to be a far more comprehensive and ongoing scientific monitoring program,” he said.
Mr Smyth said pipi harvesting should be banned entirely in the southern part of Venus Bay to protect the population.
Authorities maintain that commercial fishing of pipis has long been permitted in Venus Bay, and no new licenses have been issued. Only one commercial license holder is currently fishing in Venus Bay, according to a spokeswoman for the Department of Economic Development, Jobs, Transport and Resources.
But locals say it was only in summer that they first saw a commercial operator collecting large numbers of shellfish with a trolley and hessian bags.
A notice gazetted shortly before the November election specified areas in Venus Bay that were open to commercial harvesting.
A study commissioned by Venus Bay residents found recreational harvesting was having a substantial impact on the beach.
Marine ecologist and consultant Greg Parry, who conducted the study, also recommended closing sections of the Venus Bay beach off to harvesting at different times.
“The recreational harvesting had reduced the population in the fished area very significantly by about three quarters,” he said. “By opening the other part of the beach to commercial fishing they run the risk of causing the collapse of the pipi population on the whole beach.”
During the summer holiday period, fisheries officers uncovered more than 150 “alleged offences” during inspections of pipi collectors in Venus Bay.
Recreational harvesters are subject to a two-litre limit in the region. The officers issued 15 infringement notices, 13 official warnings and 138 verbal warnings for minor offences.
In early December, a Melbourne man was allegedly caught in Venus Bay with more than 10 times the daily limit.
Friends of Venus Bay Peninsula president Mae Adams said up to 4000 people a day descended on the beach to harvest shellfish during peak summer holidays. “There’s been enormous pressure on the beach, particularly in the past five years,” she said.
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