Pipis replaced by cockles
PIPIS are in such short supply on Clarence Coast beaches, bait shops are buying them in from South Australia and Victoria.
Yamba Bait and Tackle owner Mick Leavey said the shellfish had been almost impossible to get and he had been forced to use another species, called a cockle, to replace them.
"What we sell as a pipi is really a cockle," he said. "It's half brown and fatter."
Mr Leavey said pipi stocks on local beaches have declined rapidly.
"You might be able to find a few," he said.
"But you won't find their little mounds and be able to dig them up.
"You have to get into the surf and rumble around with your feet in the sand. You might find a few."
He said occasionally pipis have been washed into rockpools and people find 100 to 200 in there when the tide went out.
Mr Leavey was at a loss to explain the decline in numbers of a shellfish that was once abundant.
"I heard that years ago they commercially harvested Pippie Beach," he said.
"They told me they were driving tractors up and down the beach collecting them.
"I've also heard there's some bacteria up north that's killing them."
He also said humans were eating them rather than using them as bait.
"It's harder to get pilchards now," he said.
"People are getting big money for them now from the restaurants.
"The bait guys won't pay that sort of money."