Pipis Now and Forever - Venus Bay to Host New Research Project

Note Number: FN0609
Published: September 2009

Over the summer of 2008/2009, Venus Bay in southern Victoria was abundant with pipis and recreational fishers have enjoyed the spoils. To ensure Victorians can have their pipi and eat it too, Fisheries Victoria have introduced new regulations for the harvest of pipis from the Venus Bay area. New research is also planned to find out more about the recreational pipi fishery in Victoria.

Fig 1. The smooth, triangular-shaped shells vary in colour from off-pink to bluish-grey or reddish-brown
Fig 1. The smooth, triangular-shaped shells vary in colour from off-pink to bluish-grey or reddish-brown

The pipi is an edible bivalve mollusc that occurs naturally from southern Queensland, down the east coast through to the Eyre Peninsula in South Australia. In different parts of its range, the pipi is also known as the Coorong cockle, Goolwa cockle, surf clam or ugari.

The pipi lives on high-energy beaches in the intertidal and subtidal surf zone. The largest pipis inhabit the lower shore. Juveniles live higher up on the beach in the intertidal zone. P ipis use their strong foot to bury into the sand to an average depth of 10 cm.

Pipis feed by sieving or filtering microscopic plants (phytoplankton) from the water. While most pipis grow to 5 to 6 cm in length, some grow to 8 cm. Pipis mature (i.e. develop functional reproductive organs) when they are about a year old (around 4 cm shell length) and can live for 4 or 5 years.

Adult pipis breed by releasing eggs and sperm into the water, where the sperm fertilizes the egg to produce millions of larvae. In South Australia, spawning takes place over a long period of time, but peaks in the spring.

The larvae drift as plankton in the coastal currents for 4 to 8 weeks travelling large distances before the currents drop them onto new surf beaches.

The number of pipis on a beach can change noticeably from year to year. In some years, they are plentiful while in other years on the same beach, pipis can be scarce and hard to find.

These changes in pipi numbers are most likely due to natural changes in the patterns of coastal currents and winds, which drive the transport of larval pipis. Variations in these currents will affect both the number of larval pipis reaching a beach, and the beaches to which the larvae are delivered. Strong offshore winds can reduce the numbers of young pipis settling in the surf zone.

Changes in winds and currents can also affect pipi populations in other ways. In South Australia, for example, after periods of calm weather, many pipis died or were in poor condition. Pipis need heavy surf to live and grow. Heavy surf concentrates phytoplankton (the pipi's food) in the surf zone where they live. Heavy surf also increases the amount of oxygen in the water, which the pipis need.

Pipis may be collected in Victoria by licensed recreational fishers or by those who are exempt from the requirement to hold a licence. Hand held implements may not be used for the collection of pipis. It is illegal for recreationally-caught pipis to be sold.

Fisheries Victoria uses the understanding of pipi biology and reproduction gained by research in NSW and South Australia, together with information on harvest practices, to manage Victoria's pipi resources. Because pipi populations across Victoria may be at different stages of the boom and bust population cycles, Fisheries Victoria will regulate pipi harvest at individual beaches or areas when required.

Venus Bay in the summer of 2008/2009 experienced an abundance of pipis and harvest pressure from recreational fishers increased. To guarantee that the Venus Bay's pipi resource is shared between recreational fishers today and sustained for future generations, Fisheries Victoria has introduced new recreational harvest regulations for the area between Arch Rock and Point Smythe in the Cape Liptrap Coastal Park:

  • The daily catch limit for pipis in shell has been reduced from 5 litres to 2 litres per person.
  • For shucked or split pipis, the catch limit has been reduced from one litre to half a litre.

These new limits took effect from 25 May 2009.

To ensure the sustainable harvest of our pipis and to better understand the impact of fishing, Fisheries Victoria will support a project to further investigate the population biology of pipis. This project will be conducted at Venus Bay. The project outcomes will assist in the development of future management strategies for pipis in Victoria.

Contact/Services available from VFA

 For more information on this project please contact Toby Jeavons at VFA Queenscliff Centre on 5258 0111.


This Fishnote was developed by Fisheries Victoria, Fisheries Research Branch. September 2009