Beachgoers hit with $800 fine for collecting protected shellfish
Beachgoers have been slogged with $800 in fines after allegedly removing buckets full of highly prized shellfish from a northern NSW beach.
While the daily limit is 50 pipis per person, state fisheries officers say they caught the individuals with 620.
The seizure occurred on May 10 at Tallow Beach, within borders of the protected Cape Byron Marine Park, after a tip-off from residents.
An image posted to social media on Monday by authorities shows piles of the small white shellfish spread out across a lawn.
Fisheries officers described the incident as a "costly afternoon" for the pipi collectors.
Pipi consumption could be dangerous to human health
Those believed to be behind the marine park haul were given a $500 Penalty Infringement Notice for exceeding the daily limit along with a $300 Penalty Infringement Notice for removing the pipis from their habitat.
NSW Fisheries warned collecting the shellfish from the area is “potentially dangerous” to humans as they can contain contaminants.
After the seizure, the tiny shellfish were carefully taken back to the beach and released back into the sand.
Pipi collection a threat to endangered shorebirds
Pied oystercatchers, a shorebird vulnerable to extinction in NSW, had been observed feeding daily on the pipis prior to the alleged incident.
The species use their powerful long red beaks to break open shellfish to access the flesh within.
While oystercatcher numbers are secure in other parts of Australia, NSW populations have suffered declines and there are thought to be only 200 breeding pairs in the state.
This is largely due to predation and habitat loss, but the environment department also lists over-harvesting of pipis as a threat.
Pipis highly prized in Italian and Chinese cooking
The majority of Australia's pipis are harvested from surf beaches along the Victorian and South Australian coast.
Burrowing around 10cm under the sand, the tiny shellfish feed on phytoplankton which they filter from the water brought in by the tide.
While they are sometimes used as bait, pipis are a highly prized food source across Australia.
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They sell for approximately $30 a kilogram and are the centrepiece of many Chinese and Italian style dishes.
Anyone with information about suspected illegal fishing in NSW can contact DPI Fishers Watch service on 1800 043 536.
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