Pipis and oysters being loved to death

Roy Schmidt is concerned by how many molluscs are being taken

Questions are being raised by locals in the Crooked River/Gerroa area about oyster and pipi bag limits, following changes to bag limits for cockles in the Lake Illawarra area.

In October of this year, the NSW Government responded to community concern about the sustainable management of cockles, and reduced the bag limit for these from 50 per bag per person per day, to just 20.

However, bag limits for Sydney Rock, Native or Pacific oysters and pipis remain at 50.

Pipis must only be used for bait, must not be removed from the beach and must not be taken beyond 50 metres of the high tide mark, according to the Department of Primary Industries recreational fishing rules and regulations.

Sydney Rock Oysters take three years to grow to just 60g. They have been known to live for up to 10 years and one oyster filters 150 litres of water per day, which is crucial for any water area.

Roy Schmidt, President of the Gerroa Community Association, has lived in Gerroa, across the road from Crooked River, for more than 20 years.
He believes there should be a moratorium on the collection of the invertebrates for an agreed period.

“I have seen a family of four come in the morning and take around 50 oysters each from the rocks across from my home,” he says.

“They return in the afternoon and take another 50 each – that’s 400 oysters in just one day.

“Compared to 20 years ago, we now have, for example, very few whiting, bream or mud crabs, no sole or `rock crabs, less flathead and oysters.

“Our estuaries, rivers and bays are critical for marine life breeding and should be better managed.”

Shellharbour Councillors Kellie Marsh and Peter Moran were instrumental in assisting the local community campaign to have the cockle bag limits reduced.

Cllr Moran says large numbers of locals were phoning NSW Fisheries when they saw inappropriate activity in the area.

“People were getting buckets and hessian sacks of cockles and putting them in trees, then bringing in a truck later in the day and loading them up.

“Fisheries prosecuted people for selling these cockles.”

He also notes that “NSW Fisheries have very few fulltime fisheries officers in this area and there were resourcing problems when they were receiving dozens of phone calls on weekends.”

There are up to six Fisheries Officers operating from the Lake Illawarra District and based in Port Kembla.

Three of these six officers are permanently assigned to the Lake Illawarra District, with the boundaries of their patrol area from the Royal National Park down to Gerroa and west to the Southern Highlands. There is also one Supervising Fisheries Officer who patrols this area.

“In the last five years, Fisheries officers have seized more than 100,000 illegally taken cockles and marine invertebrates, and that number continues to grow this season,” says the Member for Kiama Gareth Ward.

The current Operation Stingray 2 crackdown on those taking more than their fair share of cockles will continue into 2021.

Every single person who fishes (which includes collecting these molluscs) must have their own recreational fishing licence.

Anyone caught breaking the rules faces substantial penalties, including $500 on-the-spot fines, $200 for not paying the fishing fee, or a maximum penalty of $22,000 and/or six-month imprisonment.

Kiama Councillor Kathy Rice says that if council rangers are the only enforcers of bag limits, there will still be fishers not sighted by them who will take whatever they want.

Kiama Councillors Andrew Sloan and Neil Reilly believe the bag limits for oysters and pipis should be reduced from 50 to around 25.

Cllr Sloan says, “I feel a better bag limit on pipis would be around 25 per person. A bag limit of 50 seems to me to be quite excessive as they can only be used as bait, not food and cannot be removed from the beach.

“As for oysters, I’d say around 25 per person is enough, but I would much prefer to see people buy commercially farmed oysters which have quality controls.

“When the Crooked River estuary is closed or following wet weather I would strongly urge residents and visitors to leave oysters in the water due to possible contamination.”

Cllr Reilly says that even a reduction from 50 to 20 items per bag is still denuding the region of vital shellfish.

“Both oysters and pipis provide food for birdlife on the verge of extinction in this area,” he says.

Roy Schmidt has previously raised serious concerns over the health of the Crooked River with Kiama Council, asking that funding be found to collect data on the state of this and other waterways in the Kiama Local Government Area.

“I don’t wish to sound alarmist, but I certainly hope that the other estuaries and waterways in our region are in better shape than Crooked River!

“If beneficial action is not implemented as soon as possible, Crooked River is doomed to be simply a tidal and stormwater channel.”

The environment is what attracts people to our region, says Cllr Rice.

“All of our councils would benefit from introducing attractive, interpretive signage that teaches visitors about environmental interactions,” she says.

Members of the public are urged to report suspected illegal fishing activity by calling 1800 043 536 or report it online at:
Information on legal fishing and marine invertebrate collecting is available through the free FishSmartNSW App

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