REGION – Although small in size Goolwa cockles are big contributors to south coast tourism, recreational fishing and industry.
They also contribute $3.5 million to the state economy each year.
Although once mostly sold as bait, they are now widely used as seafood, appearing on the menu of some of Australia’s top restaurants.
With the increased demand, the fishery’s survival on the south coast is being ensured for future generations.
The local commercial cockle fishery, under Goolwa Pipi Co, has reaffirmed a sustainable fishing certification, which it first received in 2008.
The Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) certification acknowledges good environmental management and sustainable fishing practices.
Goolwa Pipi Co director Tom Robinson said the fishery had been re-certified to 2021.
“This year the total resource quota was 550 tonnes, but in the past fishing was as high as 1100 tonnes per year, so we’re fishing in a very sustainable way,” Mr Robinson said.
“Goolwa Pipi Co is made up of a group of like-minded pipi fishermen which includes the three-generation Hoad family which have been fishing it from the start.
Eighty per cent of our cockles are sold for human consumption, which includes some of Australia's top chefs and restaurants.
“We represent 61 per cent of the industry and we pride ourselves on delivering new products.”
Less than two decades ago only 10 per cent of cockles were used for human consumption. The rest were sold as bait.
Now 80 per cent of cockles fished from the Goolwa and Lower Lakes coast end up on dinner plates. Many in top restaurants.
“Eighty per cent of our cockles are sold for human consumption, which includes some of Australia's top chefs and restaurants,” Mr Robinson said.
“Our modified atmosphere packaging extends the shelf life of the product, which enables us to sell through retail stores.
“We are developing a cooked-in bag product which we’re hoping will open some new areas for us in terms of new markets.”
Mr Robinson said recipes and influences from other cultures have helped cockles to become more accepted as a seafood dish in Australia.
Goolwa Pipi Co has two fishing crews, with six people per crew, and employs seven people in its factory at Port Elliot. The fishery is on the south eastern side of the Murray Mouth, and the harvest area is 60km long.
Primary Industries and Regions SA’s Sean Sloan said the fishery was a success story.
“In 2009 we addressed excessive fishing pressure and pipi stock decline by introducing quota management,” Mr Sloan said.
“Since then, through determination and continued industry innovation and product development, the fishery is now a flourishing industry in the Goolwa and Lower Lakes Region.”
In 2014 Goolwa Pipi Co received a $75,000 state government grant. A $30,000 grant through the Building South Australia’s Premium Food and Wine Credential Program, helped the fishery achieve its MSC recertification.