Numbers of cockle collectors at Lake Illawarra appear to have reduced in 2021-2022, however residents are concerned that some collectors have upped their tactics to avoid detection.
Reports of illegal cockle collection at Lake Illawarra have decreased this year, according to the NSW Department of Primary Industries.
"Between 24 December 2021 and 10 January 2022 there were 10 reports of this activity. Across the same period in 2020-2021 and 2019-2020 there were 38 reports and 96 respectively, showing a significant decline of these reports over the last three years during the summer school holiday period," a spokesperson said.
The three year period aligns with the length of Operation Stingray, which targeted illegal collection of cockles and other invertebrates.
"Since July 2019, Fisheries Officers have reported 673 cockle related offences at Lake Illawarra leading to the issue of 408 written warnings, 244 penalty notices totalling $102,075 in value and initiated 21 prosecution actions which are at various stages of the court process," the spokesperson said.
"They also seized about 28,500 cockles, most of which were returned to the water alive."
Lake Illawarra resident John Davey said that while he observed fewer people collecting cockles, the tactics of collectors are changing.
"There's a significant amount of activity taking place at the back of Bevans Island being accessed by collectors in boats. I'm up there regularly and I never see any fisheries officers present up there."
In previous years, Davey had spotted cockle collectors collecting at night using lights and torches to search for the molluscs. While this had dropped off this year, there was still the issue of the damage left behind by collectors.
"We're just not set up to have this level of activity on the foreshore, there's the rubbish, there's the defecating in the bushes," said Mr Davey.
Individuals are allowed to take up to 20 cockles under NSW regulations per person per day. Penalties for breaching these limits include a $500 on the spot fine, a $200 fine for not paying the fishing fee or a maximum penalty of $22,000 or six months imprisonment.
"No one travels from Sydney to collect 20 cockles," said Mr Davey. "I still believe that we should have a moratorium on the collecting of cockles."
Mr Davey said the community was appreciative of the work of fisheries officers and that ensuring and encouraging access to the lake brought a positive benefit but that infrastructure was needed to match.
"I think we need to be looking at some of the facilities we are making available along the foreshore such as toilets, car parking, boat ramps and all those things that make it an attractive area."
The Illawarra Mercury newsroom is funded by our readers. You can subscribe to support our journalism here.
Sign up for breaking news emails below ...
Sign up for our newsletter to stay up to date.