The management of the specimen shell industry is the responsibility of the various State fisheries agencies under the Wildlife Protection (Regulation of Exports and Imports) Act 1982, which requires that the fishery be conducted under Management Plans enacted in each State and Territory. To date only Western Australia and Queensland have management plans in place. A draft management plan has been available in NSW for more than two years but has not yet been released for comment.


Because a very low priority is given to this “fishery” by most of the state/territory agencies (some do not have draft management plans), there is unlikely to be a significant allocation of resources to this issue. Thus these management plans need to be workable and practically enforceable. There is general acknowledgment that shell collecting is a popular and generally harmless occupation and should be allowed to occur without undue restriction, while at the same time protecting species and habitats recognised as being vulnerable. An option favoured by the Malacological Society of Australasia is to licence collectors and impose a code of ethics. Bag limits should be placed on the species targeted by collectors as specimen shells or for food.


Separation of live and dead collected specimens has been identified as an issue in some management plans. Willan (1986) detailed the ways in which live collected and beach collected specimens can be differentiated, providing a potential means of settling any disputes. In Western Australia, however, the definition of specimen shells includes empty beach shells. Ponder and Grayson (1998) argue that there is little, if any, justification in preventing or limiting the collection of empty shells from beaches. The implementation of such a definition could potentially make any child or tourist picking up a few shells on the beach liable to be fined for breaking the law. This is the case, for example, on the GBR where it is illegal to collect shells or corals dead or alive.


Another management option (for example in the Queensland Management Plan) involves banning the sale of bycatch obtained from fishing trawlers. Ponder and Grayson (1998) argued that by excluding using bycatch, the legal source of most of the shelf taxa will disappear, driving the prices up and the market underground.


Some reports on the shell trade have recommended banning some species from trade (e.g., Willan 1986). While Ponder and Grayson (1998)[26] argued that there is no immediate need to ban any species from export, there was a clear need to have management plans in place for targeted, vulnerable species. Of these, some members of the families Cypraeidae (cowries) and Volutidae (volutes, including the baler shells) are most at risk. The Australian volutes are all direct developers, as are several endemic cypraeid taxa but there is no evidence to suggest that all volute species are at risk and many species of cowry are widespread and very common. 


Licensing of commercial specimen shell operators is a management option that is used in some states - for example, there are five licenses for people to take specimen shells (about 600 shells) from the GBR.


Information and data needs

Copyright © Environment Australia, 2002
Department of Environment and Heritage