Environment: Protecting platypus (and other important animals)

Multiple drownings of platypus in opera house yabby nets led the banning of these devices in Victoria…why won’t NSW follow suit?

EVER been fishing really early on a bass pool or trout stream and seen a platypus pop up? It’s a great bonus to see these eccentric animals in their natural habitat but there are increasing concerns about their long-term viability. As with most Australian mammals, they were extensively hunted for their pelts and in more recent times have suffered greatly through changes to their habitat.

Since last October Fisho has run a few pieces on efforts to ban opera house yabby traps, after reports of multiple drownings of platypus in these devices. For the record, these traps also kill water rats, turtles and cormorants. Finding seven dead platypus in one net near Melbourne in September last year contributed to the Victorian government announcing it would ban the use of these nets from July 1, 2019, which it duly did. It also introduced a “3 for 3” exchange scheme, where yabby fishers could swap three of their opera house traps for three new open top lift nets, which are fine for catching yabbies and don’t kill other aquatic wildlife.

About the same time the NSW Council of Freshwater Anglers lobbied the then Minister for Primary Industries/Fisheries to ban the nets in NSW. The Recreational Fishing NSW Advisory Council also recommended consideration be given to a ban. Since then there’s been an election and a change of minister but no further news.

In NSW, the use of these traps is banned east of a line roughly following the Newell Highway, but not west of that line, where there are presumably less platypus. There are instructions on the DPI rec fishing website on how to make the nets “safer” for wildlife using rings made from wire coat hangers. But unmodified traps are still available for purchase and the ABC recently reported on the drowning of four platypus in an illegally set trap in the upper Shoalhaven River near Braidwood. And turtles and water rats still drown out west.

So surely it’s time to ban the sale and use of these traps completely in NSW. An exchange scheme similar to that used in Victoria would be fair to yabby fishers, and if the tackle retailers whinge about unsellable stock, consider compensating them as well.

It would be nice to see some positive media stories on protecting wildlife in NSW, rather than on indemnities for the illegal clearing of native vegetation, logging protected river red gums in national parks and over-allocating water from the western rivers. Past governments outlawed bottom-set nets that were killing blue groper and set-lining in our rivers and were praised for doing so.

If proposals to ban opera house nets entirely have been prepared and are awaiting approval, then great, but Minister, please sign them through. “Putting people first” might be this government’s first priority, but surely protecting and conserving our native species and the natural environment could at least run a place.

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