Pipi (2020)

Donax deltoides

  • Greg Ferguson (South Australian Research and Development Institute)
  • Daniel Johnson (Department of Primary Industries NSW)
  • Victorian Fisheries Authority (Victorian Fisheries Authority)

Date Published: June 2021

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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 SA and NSW, and undefined stock in VIC.

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Stock Status Overview

Stock status determination
Jurisdiction Stock Stock status Indicators
Victoria Victoria Undefined
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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 [King 1976, Ferguson 2013, Gluis and Li 2014, 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


The presence of shells in middens provides evidence that Pipi were harvested historically by Indigenous communities along the Victorian coastline for the past 10 000 years [Godfrey 1989]. Pipi are also harvested by the commercial sector and by recreational fishers.

The commercial Pipi fishery has operated since 1990, when small, infrequent catches were targeted towards the bait market. With development of the fishery, targeting of commercial catches has been increasingly directed at the human consumption market. The Pipi fishery transitioned to quota management in April 2020 with an annual total allowable commercial catch (TACC) for each of three management zones and a specific Pipi Fishery Access Licence required for fishers. Recreational fishers harvest Pipi for food and bait, primarily in the summer months with the impacts of recreational harvesting thought to be localised around beach access points [Lewis et al. 2012]. Most recreational Pipi fishing occurs in Venus Bay, although anecdotal evidence suggests increasing numbers of recreational fishers are visiting Discovery Bay, and elsewhere. Although the recreational fishery in Venus Bay is significant, the size of its landings is currently unknown [Conron et al. 2020].

Commercial fishery CPUE (catch rate) provides the only available index of relative abundance for Pipi in Victoria. Currently, there is uncertainty around CPUE as an index of relative abundance due to changing fishing practices (e.g. numbers of people catching Pipi under a licence on a given day) and changes in the way that effort and gear have been reported over time [Conron et al. 2020]. With the introduction of the quota fishery in 2020, a Pipi fishery-specific logbook has been introduced as well as a regulation change to limit the number of fishers to two per fishing operation.  These changes will lead to improvements in catch and effort reporting [Conron et al. 2020].

Statewide commercial landings were very low and sporadic during the early 1990s with effort less than 90h.y-1 until 2010 before a seven-fold escalation in 2011 when the more active commercial fishery in the far west at Discovery Bay became established [Conron et al. 2020]. In 2013–14 the commercial Pipi catch increased to 86 t, but by 2019–20 it had declined to 54 t.  The Total Allowable Catch for the 2020–2021 season was set at 10 t in Discovery Bay Western Zone, 40 t in Discovery Bay Eastern Zone and 2 t in the Venus Bay Commercial Zone. Past assessments of Pipi have been limited, and there are no data available to directly estimate biomass or exploitation rates. In addition, there is no knowledge on recruitment or harvestable biomass, and there are no defined target or limit reference levels. Previous investigation of the impact of recreational collection of pipis over a number of seasons showed:

  • No measurable effect on the numbers of pipis on the beach,
  • No measurable effect on the numbers of pipi recruits (<1 to 16 mm) or immature juvenile pipi (17 to 36 mm) at these beaches,
  • It reduced the proportion of adult pipis (≥37 mm in length) in the populations at several beaches,
  • It altered the population structure of pipis on the harvested beaches, so that sexually immature pipis dominate.

Although a new research project has commenced in 2020 to provide biomass and stock structure information for Victoria, the limited data available at present precludes an assessment of current Pipi stock size or fishing pressure. Initial results have shown that the total numbers of pipis have increased across the year with the most abundant areas of large mature pipis found within a short walk from the main beach access points.  

Notwithstanding these recent observations, there remains insufficient information available to confidently classify the status of this stock.

On the basis of the evidence provided above, Pipi in Victoria is classified as an undefined stock.

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

Species Longevity / Maximum Size Maturity (50 per cent)

South Australia: 3–5 years, 61 mm SL. New South Wales: 1–2 years, 75 mm SL

South Australia: ~12 months, fifty per cent mature at 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
Hand collection
Hand held- Implements
Hand collection
Hand held- Implements
Management methods
Method Victoria
Bag limits
Effort limits
Gear restrictions
Limited entry
Size limit
Spatial closures
Customary fishing permits
Bag limits
Gear restrictions
Commercial 53.92t
Indigenous Unknown
Recreational Unknown

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) A person who identifies as Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander is exempt from the need to obtain a Victorian recreational fishing licence, provided they comply with all other rules that apply to recreational fishers, including rules on equipment, catch limits, size limits and restricted areas. Traditional (non-commercial) fishing activities that are carried out by members of a traditional owner group entity under an agreement pursuant to Victoria’s Traditional Owner Settlement Act 2010 are also exempt from the need to hold a recreational fishing licence, subject to any conditions outlined in the agreement. Native title holders are also exempt from the need to obtain a recreational fishing licence under the provisions of the Commonwealth’s Native Title Act 1993.

New South Wales – Indigenous (management methods)https://www.dpi.nsw.gov.au/fishing/aboriginal-fishing.

New South Wales – Recreational (Catch) Murphy et al. [2020].

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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  2. 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.
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  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. Giri, K and Hall, K 2015, South Australian recreational fishing survey 2013–14. Fisheries Victoria Internal Report Series No. 62, Victoria.
  7. 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.
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  11. Johnson, DD 2020. Stock assessment report 2020 — Estuary General Hand Gathering Fishery — Pipi (Donax deltoides). NSW Department of Primary Industries. Fisheries NSW, Port Stephens Fisheries Institute. 71 pp.
  12. Jones, K 2009, South Australian recreational fishing survey 2007/08, South Australian fisheries management series, paper 55, Primary Industries and Resources South Australia, Adelaide.
  13. 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.
  14. 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.
  15. 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
  16. Luebbers, RA 1978, Meals and menus: a study of change in prehistoric coastal settlements in South Australia, PhD thesis, Australian National University, Canberra.
  17. Martell, S and Froese, R 2013, A simple method for estimating MSY from catch and resilience. Fish and Fisheries 14: 504-514.
  18. 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.
  19. Murphy, J.J., Ochwada-Doyle, F.A., West, L.D., Stark, K.E. and Hughes, J.M., 2020. The NSW Recreational Fisheries Monitoring Program - survey of recreational fishing, 2017/18. NSW DPI - Fisheries Final Report Series No. 158.
  20. 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.
  21. Murray-Jones, S 1999, Conservation and management in variable environments: the surf clam, Donax deltoides, PhD thesis, University of Wollongong.
  22. PIRSA 2016, Management Plan for the South Australian Commercial Lakes and Coorong Fishery. Primary Industries and Regions South Australia (Fisheries and Aquaculture), Adelaide.
  23. 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.
  24. 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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