Residents and regular visitors to Venus Bay staged a peaceful protest at No 5 beach on New Year’s Day; they are calling for a closed pipi harvesting season over summer to allow the pipis to reach maturity, ease congestion and strain on beach infrastructure, and allow all people to enjoy the beach. Despite the awful weather, protestors and pipi harvesters turned up en masse on the public holiday. D010114.
CONFRONTATIONS between harvesters and those against what they see as ‘organised pillaging’ of Venus Bay’s pipis may continue over summer as frustrations run high.
A social media-organised protest at Venus Bay’s No 5 beach showed how emotive the issue can be even on a miserable New Year Day.
Despite the rain squalls and wind, harvesters continued to arrive at Venus Bay’s beaches with large buckets to collect pipis.
Meanwhile, a crowd of protestors grew increasingly agitated with the bucketfuls of pipis returning to cars and a trail of rubbish in the collectors’ wake.
Protesters said they believed large numbers of harvesters came to Venus Bay on the day, despite the poor weather, with the understanding there would be limited or no Fisheries Victoria presence due to it being a public holiday.
There were certainly no Fisheries Officers to be seen.
Meanwhile, as parking at No 5 beach became more and more congested, tensions ran higher and words were exchanged between protestors, pipi harvesters and fishermen.
In one instance a harvester, in a particularly heated exchange, traced his thumb across his throat, then pointed to protestors.
Local police were informed of the protest, but did not attend.
Previously police have been called to break up fights, remove harvesters from camping in fire breaks, issue fines for illegal parking across driveways and to set up road blocks and inspect cars.
However protesters say pipi harvesting continues with apparent impunity.
“We’ve all taken photos and made reports,” Venus Bay resident Michelle Ford said.
“Nothing’s ever done.
“We’ve signed petitions, attended meetings but what happens?
“The over harvesting of pipis continues.”
“And it’s not just the harvesting,” continued fellow protestor Yasmin Hadfield.
“It’s infrastructural chaos.
“The small toilet block is packed out so people go into the sand dunes and defecate.
“People park on both sides of the road, if there was a bushfire, engine fire or emergency on the beach, there’s no way an emergency services vehicle could get up to the carpark and turn around again.
“Harvesters have picnics on people’s nature strips and don’t take their rubbish away with them. The bins are regularly overflowing.”
The protestors argued there was a lack of respect for the beach, especially in relation to littering, which would only be exacerbated during the summer months.
“I’ve been coming to Venus Bay for 50 years and walk the beach every day with a plastic bag,” said Andrena Moon.
“Some days I quickly fill the bag even before I get to the beach.
“Today I picked up 22 pairs of disposable gloves, three pairs of scuffs, packets of beef jerky, water bottles.
“It’s so disappointing the beach has turned into a tip.”
Not a racist
Venus Bay resident Kerrie Auchettl organised the protest and has an online petition with over 1700 signatures (700 of those coming after Christmas Day, 2013).
“People want change and people are angry and frustrated feeling they’re not being heard by anyone,” Kerrie said.
She says it has taken all her resolve to call for a closed season, for pipi size enforcement (so they can reach reproductive maturity), more funding for fisheries and higher prosecution rates for illegal harvesters after some targeted, personal criticism.
“I nearly gave up on the petition following a meeting with the Community Reference Group after being called a racist,” Kerrie said.
“I’ve never been called that in my life and it just floored me.
“I took over 30 minutes of people calling me racist and it really hurt, especially when the people calling me that hadn’t read the petition – they made assumptions about me and what we were calling for.
“I had to take a break for a while and wonder if doing this was really worth my sanity.
“I thought to myself: ‘If you don’t do something now to help the environment, no one will and you won’t be able to live with it if you chose to do nothing’.
“We need a closed season, we cannot continue down this path.”
Since then Kerrie has updated the website, linking information from studies, Fisheries, pipi harvesting information in other states and YouTube clips of over harvesting, reduced access to beaches, infrastructure failure (people emerging from the dunes while the line for the toilet winds down the road) and litter.
Kerrie is at pains to point out the protest and petition is not a racial issue.
The fact most of the harvesters are Asian is “beside the point”.
“Calling it racist is the worst excuse ever to keep the status quo at the detriment to the environment,” Kerrie said.
Protests to go on
Residents and regular visitors to Venus Bay have vowed to continue with protests, petitions and support an independent pipi monitoring project which recently concluded.
More protests are likely to be organised during this month.
The online petition and website is www.vbpipis.com.