A BAN on commercial pipi harvesting in NSW is due to end soon, but local environmentalists say the population on South Ballina Beach is struggling.
Last week Dr Lee Andresen from Ballina Coastcare, Ballina Shire Greens councillor Jeff Johnson and expert fisherman John Clarke visited South Ballina Beach to see if they could find any of the molluscs.
"We didn't find a single pipi," Cr Johnson said.
"There has been a dramatic decline in numbers and the moratorium on commercial harvesting should continue until the pipi numbers increase."
Primary Industries Minister Katrina Hodgkinson announced the ban in December last year.
She said the six-month closure was a recommendation of the cross-sector Pipi Resource Planning Group, which was formed to advise on options for the future management of pipi harvesting.
"I have been concerned ... that our state's pipi population has dwindled rapidly in the past five to 10 years," she said.
"In addition to harvesting, the abundance of pipis is likely to depend on a range of environmental factors, including climate, habitat suitability, beach profile, oceanic dynamics, existence of algae and food sources."
The ban expires on June 1. It is understood that Ms Hodgkinson's department will be considering the moratorium during April.
"This is our last chance to make a difference and save molluscan life on South Ballina Beach," Dr Andresen said.
"The mollusc populations on our beaches are a vital part of the food chain. Their loss is a major destabilising factor in ecosystem health.
"They are traditional indigenous heritage food stock for the Bundjalung people of this coast."
Mr Clarke said the population of pipis on South Ballina Beach had not yet started to recover, despite the moratorium.
There are also concerns that not enough scientific research is being done on why the pipis are in decline.
Dr Andresen said the harvesting moratorium should be continued indefinitely until the causes of the pipi decline were known and populations had recovered, "however many years that may take".
He is calling for ongoing beach monitoring and more independent research.
Anyone worried about the pipi situation should email Ms Hodgkinson at email@example.com.
General department contacts are: Phone 1300 550 474, email firstname.lastname@example.org or NSW DPI, PO Box 21, Cronulla NSW 2230.
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