Primary industries minister Katrina Hodgkinson yesterday announced a resumption of pipi harvesting throughout NSW, contrary to the recommendations of her own advisory council on recreational fishing.
Two members of that council are so disgusted with the decision that they have decided to speak out to Echonetdaily, despite the fact that one of them considers it may lose him his seat on the council.
The entire coastline of NSW outside of marine national parks is now once again open for harvesting, with the sole exception of two sections of beach at South Ballina and Stockton – and even these will only be partial closures.
The government has made two concessions: a new minimum size limit of 45 millimetres will apply, as well as a new limit restricting the daily take to 40 kilograms.
Advisory council members John Clarke and Charlie Howe believe the premature reopening of the fishery will cause further devastation before the pipi stock has time to recover.
John Clarke said that all beaches north of Evans Head to the Queensland border (known as zone one) should be continually closed to harvesting until independent scientific evidence determines that harvesting is sustainable.
‘The reports that I’m getting for all those beaches is that it’s gone beyond critical, especially at South Ballina. It was absolutely hammered after 2006. Such was the destruction of the breeding stock that now the beach is really struggling to recover,’ he told Echonetdaily.
He said of the role of the advisory council in the decision, ‘the minister has taken no notice of us as all’.
Ballina MP and north coast minister Don Page said the moratorium will continue on most of South Ballina Beach. Commercial harvesting will be restricted to the area between Patches Beach and Coffee Rock.
‘It should be noted there has been no commercial pipi harvesting in the area for many years and no water tests have been submitted to the NSW Food Authority,’ he said.
‘Commercial harvesting requires water testing to be carried out several times before harvesting and on the day of harvest to ensure there is no danger of the pipis being affected by one of several known biotoxins that can cause severe food poisoning.’
Charlie Howe said he was disappointed in the role of the Shooters and Fishers Party, which failed to support a Greens motion to continue the moratorium.
‘I was sorry that the Fishers and Shooters didn’t support [Greens MP] Cate Faehrmann to get it discussed in the upper house. They did that just so they could get their hunting in National Parks,’ he told Echonetdaily.
He added that the areas in South Ballina that can still be harvested are the areas that hold most of the remaining pipis.
‘Other areas on the Tweed coast where they have been coming back could be wiped out within a few days of harvest,’ he said.
He likened the decision to the Japanese justification for whaling, ‘to see if they are there’.
‘They’ve just given token areas because the two councils [Ballina and Port Stephens] wanted the moratoriums continued. And they were the two beaches that were the most heavily targeted previously. But there’s no real gain because the areas not to be harvested don’t hold a lot of pipis anyway. So it’s really only token.’
He said that NSW is the only state where unfettered pipi harvesting is allowed.
‘Queensland has no commercial take. Victoria scrapped it because theirs were devastated. SA restructured their pipi industry and now have very stringent controls – just 330–350 tonnes per year. Whereas in NSW, prior to this year, there was no size or harvest limit. Almost 700 tonnes were taken in 2000 alone.’
Charlie Howe said that pipis are considered such a delicacy, especially in Asian communities, that they can sell for up to $70 a kilogram.
Minister Page said it is difficult to say how much an endorsement to harvest pipis is worth as commercial fishing operations harvest other species.
‘Endorsements issued for pipi harvesting are zone specific. There are currently 11 endorsements for zone one but there has been no commercial harvesting in zone one since 2006,’ he said.
Echonetdaily sought comment from primary industries minister Katrina Hodgkinson, who was responsible for the decision, but no comment was received by deadline.