Pipi (2018)

Donax deltoides

  • Greg Ferguson (South Australian Research and Development Institute)
  • Daniel Johnson (Department of Primary Industries, New South Wales)
  • Harry Gorfine (Victorian Fisheries Authority)

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Pipi are common on sandy beaches from southern QLD to the mouth of the Murray River in SA. It has been harvested by Indigenous people for 10,000 years. Pipi is a sustainable stock in NSW and Qld, and undefined stock in VIC.

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Stock Status Overview

Stock status determination
Jurisdiction Stock Fisheries Stock status Indicators
New South Wales New South Wales EGF Sustainable Catch, CPUE
Estuary General Fishery (NSW)
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Stock Structure

Pipi is common on high-energy sandy beaches from southern Queensland to the mouth of the Murray River in South Australia [Murray-Jones and Ayre 1997] and the distribution may extend further westwards. High genetic variation between populations on either side of Bass Strait indicates at least two biological stocks, with the East Australian and South Australian Currents acting as key drivers of gene flow on the east and south coasts of Australia respectively [Miller et al. 2013]. A study of Pipi from Fraser Island, Queensland, to southern New South Wales, indicated a single biological stock over this area, with genetic mixing driven by ocean currents associated with the East Australian Current [Murray-Jones and Ayre 1997]. For locations west of Bass Strait in South Australia and western Victoria, no evidence of genetic structuring has been detected [Miller et al. 2013]. The degree of larval mixing is thought to be related to spawning and larval duration, although these are poorly understood [Ferguson 2013, Gluis and Li 2014, King 1976, Miller et al. 2013]. Although no genetic differences were detected among Pipi populations on beaches along the east coast of Australia, in any given year, most recruits are likely to be self-seeded or to come from nearby, adjacent beaches [Murray-Jones and Ayre 1997]. This is also likely the case for the fisheries located to the west of Bass Strait. Despite the work outlined above, the biological stock delineation of Pipi remains unclear.

Here, assessment of stock status is presented at the jurisdictional level—New South Wales, Victoria, and South Australia.

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Stock Status

New South Wales

The harvest of Pipi in New South Wales is shared between the commercial sector, recreational fishers and for at least 10 000 years Pipi have provided a source of food for Indigenous people in this region [Murray-Jones 1999]. Steeply declining commercial catches over a six year period (568 tonnes [t] in 2004–05 to 9 t in 2010–11) suggested that New South Wales Pipi stocks were depleted. Input controls were implemented which aimed to stabilise catches. These included: (1) spatial closures (i.e. within beach closures), (2) temporal closures of the commercial fishery (i.e. 6 months per-annum), and (3) a minimum legal size limit (i.e. 45 mm total length) to allow spawning to occur at least once before recruitment to the fishery [Murray-Jones 1999], as well as a daily catch limit of 40 kg per fisher. Annually, harvest is reported from a small proportion (less than 20 per cent) of the total number of beaches from which harvest is permitted. From 2010–11 to 2015–16, catches increased from 9 t to 176 t (26 per cent of historical peak), likely resulting from these management measures. 

The primary indicators for biomass and fishing mortality are commercial catch and catch rate (i.e. catch per unit effort, CPUE, kg.day-1). Statewide catches and catch rate have generally increased since 2010–11. For the three main regions of the fishery (Region 1, adjacent the Queensland border and Regions 3 and 4, located to the south), annual catches have increased and annual catch rate has been stable since 2010–11. In each of these regions, from 2012–13 to 2017–18, monthly catch rate has generally remained stable across the six month fishing season. For the years in which simple stock depletion models were applied (i.e. when within-season declines in catch rate were apparent), estimated exploitation rates in Region 1 and Region 4 were < 30 per cent [Johnson 2018]. In Region 3, which includes the greatest number of accessible beaches and highest number of endorsed fishers, within-season exploitation rates ranged from 28–73 per cent. Estimates of state-wide recreational catch are available from the National Recreational and Indigenous Fishing Survey and New South Wales state-wide surveys completed in the 2000–01 and 2013–14 financial years, respectively [Henry and Lyle 2003, West et al. 2015]. The estimated recreational catch in 2000–01 was 7 t, and in 2013–14 was 1.3 t, representing less than one per cent of total combined recreational and commercial harvest in each survey period. In 2000, recreational harvesting of Pipi for human consumption was prohibited, restricting recreational fishers to harvesting for bait only. Although there are no state-wide estimates of Indigenous harvest, onsite interviews of Indigenous fishers in the Tweed Heads region (Northern New South Wales) estimated an annual Pipi harvest in that region of 3 056–7 380 individuals [Schnierer 2011]. Indigenous fishers harvest pipi throughout New South Wales.

The above evidence indicates that the biomass of this stock is unlikely to be depleted and that recruitment is unlikely to be impaired. Furthermore, the above evidence indicates that the current level of fishing mortality is unlikely to cause the stock to become recruitment impaired. 

On the basis of the evidence provided above, Pipi in New South Wales is classified as a sustainable stock

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Pipi biology [Ferguson 2013, King 1976, Murray-Jones 1999]

Species Longevity / Maximum Size Maturity (50 per cent)
Pipi South Australia: 3–5 years, 61 mm SL New South Wales: 1–2 years, 75 mm SL South Australia: ~10 months, 28 mm SL New South Wales: 1 year, 37 mm SL
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Distribution of reported commercial catch of Pipi
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Fishing methods
New South Wales
Hand collection
Hand collection
Hand collection
Management methods
Method New South Wales
Gear restrictions
Limited entry
Size limit
Spatial closures
Temporal closures
Trip limits
Bag limits
Native Title
Section 37 (1d)(3)(9), Aboriginal cultural fishing authority
Bag limits
Gear restrictions
Possession limit
New South Wales
Commercial 175.96t in EGF
Indigenous Unknown
Recreational 1.3 t
Estuary General Fishery (NSW)

Active Vessels Because Pipi are collected from beaches, ‘vessels’ is not used. Hence, numbers of licences and fishers are presented here instead of vessel numbers. Licences refer to the number of licence holders with an endorsement to take Pipi for sale.

Victoria - Indigenous (management methods) In Victoria, regulations for managing recreational fishing may not apply to fishing activities by Indigenous people. Victorian traditional owners may have rights under the Commonwealth's Native Title Act 1993 to hunt, fish, gather and conduct other cultural activities for their personal, domestic or non-commercial communal needs without the need to obtain a licence. Traditional Owners that have agreements under the Traditional Owner Settlement Act 2010 (Vic) may also be authorised to fish without the requirement to hold a recreational fishing licence. Outside of these arrangements, Indigenous Victorians can apply for permits under the Fisheries Act 1995 (Vic) that authorise fishing for specific Indigenous cultural ceremonies or events (for example, different catch and size limits or equipment). There were no Indigenous permits granted in 2017 and hence no Indigenous catch recorded.

New South Wales – Indigenous (management methods) (a) Aboriginal Cultural Fishing Interim Access Arrangement—allows an Indigenous fisher in New South Wales to take in excess of a recreational bag limit in certain circumstances; for example, if they are doing so to provide fish to other community members who cannot harvest for themselves, (b) The Aboriginal cultural fishing authority is the authority that Indigenous persons can apply to take catches outside the recreational limits under the Fisheries Management Act 1994 (NSW), Section 37 (1d)(3)(9), Aboriginal cultural fishing authority, (c) In cases where the Native Title Act 1993 (Cth) applies, fishing activity can be undertaken by the person holding native title in line with S.211 of that Act, which provides for fishing activities for the purpose of satisfying their personal, domestic or non-commercial communal needs. In managing the resource where native title has been formally recognised, the native title holders are engaged with to ensure their native title rights are respected and inform management of the State's fisheries resources, and (d) Aboriginal cultural fishing authority - the authority that Indigenous persons can apply to take catches outside the recreational limits under the Fisheries Management Act 1994 (NSW), section 37(1)(c1) Aboriginal cultural fishing authority.

South Australia and Victoria - Commercial (catch) Catches from the MSF in South Australia, and the BF and OF in Victoria cannot be reported separately for confidentiality reasons as there are fewer than five licences.

South Australia – Indigenous (management methods) In South Australia, regulations for managing recreational fishing may not apply to fishing activities by Indigenous people. South Australian traditional owners may have rights under the Commonwealth's Native Title Act 1993 to hunt, fish, gather and conduct other cultural activities for their personal, domestic or non-commercial communal needs without the need to obtain a licence.

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Catch Chart

Commercial catch of Pipi - note confidential catch not shown
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  1. Ferguson, G and Mayfield, S 2006, The South Australian Goolwa cockle (Donax deltoides) Fishery, fishery assessment report to Primary Industries and Resources South Australia Fisheries, South Australian Research and Development Institute (Aquatic Sciences), Report RD06/005-1, Adelaide.
  2. Ferguson, G, Ward, TM and Gorman, D 2015, Recovery of a surf clam Donax deltoides population in southern Australia: successful outcomes of fishery-independent surveys. North American Journal of Fisheries Management, 35:1185–1195. DOI:10.1080/02755947.2015.1091408.
  3. Ferguson, GJ 2013, Pipi (Donax deltoides) Stock Assessment, report for Primary Industries and Regions South Australia, publication F2007/000550-1, South Australian Research and Development Institute, Adelaide.
  4. Ferguson, GJ and Hooper GE 2017, Assessment of the South Australian Pipi (Donax deltoides) Fishery in 2016/17. Fishery Assessment Report for PIRSA Fisheries and Aquaculture. SARDI Publication No. F2007/000550-2. South Australian Research and Development Institute (Aquatic Sciences), Adelaide, 48p.
  5. Giri, K and Hall, K 2015, South Australian recreational fishing survey 2013–14. Fisheries Victoria Internal Report Series No. 62, Victoria.
  6. Gluis, M and Li, X 2014, Developing clam aquaculture in Australia: a feasibility study on culturing Donax deltoides and Katelysia rhytiphora on intertidal and subtidal leases in South Australia. South Australian Research and Development Institute (Aquatic Sciences), FRDC Final Report 2009/208.
  7. Godfrey, MCS 1989, Shell midden chronology in SW Victoria, Archaeology in Oceania, 24: 65–69. DOI: 10.1002/j.1834-4453.1989.tb00213.x.
  8. Henry, GW and Lyle, JM 2003, The national recreational and Indigenous fishing survey, Fisheries Research and Development Corporation, Canberra.
  9. Johnson, DD 2018, Stock status summary and stock assessment report 2018 – Estuary General – Hand Gathering Fishery, Pipi (Donax deltoides). NSW Department of Primary Industries, Port Stephens Fisheries Institute: 52pp.
  10. Jones, K 2009, South Australian recreational fishing survey 2007/08, South Australian fisheries management series, paper 55, Primary Industries and Resources South Australia, Adelaide.
  11. Jones, K and Doonan, AM 2005, 2000–01 national recreational and Indigenous fishing survey: South Australian regional information, South Australian fisheries management series, paper 46, Primary Industries and Resources South Australia, Adelaide.
  12. King, MG 1976, The life-history of the Goolwa Cockle, Donax (Plebidonax) deltoides, (Bivalvia: Donacidae), on an ocean beach, South Australia, South Australian Department of Agriculture and Fisheries, Adelaide.
  13. Lewis, Z, Khageswor, G, Versace, VL and Scarpaci, C 2012, Applying stock indicators for assessment of a recreational surf clam (Donax deltoides) fishery in Victoria, Australia, Journal of the Marine Biological Association of the United Kingdom, 1–7. DOI: 10.1017/S0025315412001695
  14. Luebbers, RA 1978, Meals and menus: a study of change in prehistoric coastal settlements in South Australia, PhD thesis, Australian National University, Canberra.
  15. Miller, AD, Versace, VL, Matthews, TG, Montgomery, S and Bowie, KC 2013, Ocean currents influence the genetic structure of an intertidal mollusc in southeastern Australia—implications for predicting the movement of passive dispersers across a marine biogeographic barrier, Ecology and Evolution, 3(5): 1248–1261. DOI: 10.1002/ece3.535.
  16. Murray-Jones SE and Ayre, DJ 1997, High levels of gene flow in the surf bivalve Donax deltoides (Bivalvia: Donacidae) on the east coast of Australia, Marine Biology, 1(128): 83–89. DOI: 10.1007/s002270050071.
  17. Murray-Jones, S 1999, Conservation and management in variable environments: the surf clam, Donax deltoides, PhD thesis, University of Wollongong.
  18. Murray-Jones, S and Steffe, AS 2000, A comparison between the commercial and recreational fisheries of the surf clam, Donax deltoides. Fisheries Research 44 (3):219-233. DOI: 10.1016/S0165-7836(99)00095-8
  19. PIRSA 2016, Management Plan for the South Australian Commercial Lakes and Coorong Fishery. Primary Industries and Regions South Australia (Fisheries and Aquaculture), Adelaide.
  20. Schnierer, S 2011, Aboriginal fisheries in New South Wales; determining catch, cultural significance of species and traditional fishing knowledge need. Final report to Fisheries Research and development Corporation, Project No. 2009/038, Canberra.
  21. West, LD, Stark, KE, Murphy, JJ, Lyle, JM and Ochwada-Doyle, FA 2015, Survey of recreational fishing in New South Wales and the ACT, 2013/14. Fisheries Final Report Series No. 149. NSW Department of Primary Industries, Wollongong.

Downloadable reports

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