PARK WATCH March 2018 |
Doug Gimesy (conservation and wildlife photographer) and Josh Griffiths (wildlife ecologist) shed light on the tragic but largely avoidable deaths of an iconic species.
The thought of any animal trapped underwater, slowly drowning while it frantically searches for an escape, is horrific. Knowing that we allow this to happen to one of our most iconic and unique species, the platypus, for the sake of a few yabbies, is simply disgraceful.
And yet this is what happens every year with people using enclosed yabby traps (such as opera house nets and drum net) and other type of enclosed nets in our waterways.
These nets trap indiscriminately and frequently drown platypuses (as well as other air breathing animals such as rakali and turtles) and the current regulations clearly don’t prevent this. This was graphically and horribly illustrated last May by the death of five platypuses in just two opera house nets in West Gippsland.
In Victoria enclosed yabby traps are illegal to use in public waterways, but allowed on private property (presumably to allow landowners to fish their off-stream dams). But what constitutes public waterways? If a creek runs through my property is it a private stream? Do platypuses inhabit farm dams?
Confusion around the current regulations as well as a lack of awareness or appreciation of the risks posed by these nets appears to be a major problem, so let’s clarify a few common misunderstandings:
1. “There aren’t any platypus in this stream, I’ve been coming here for years and haven’t seen any.”
As platypuses can be quite elusive and mainly active at night, not observing one in your local waterway certainly does not mean they are not present. Platypuses inhabit many large and small waterways throughout Victoria, and long-term residents are sometimes quite surprised when they are told they have some platypus neighbours. For someone unfamiliar with the waterway, it is virtually impossible to tell if platypuses are present.
2. “Platypus don’t live in farm dams.”
Platypuses are regularly found in farm dams. In fact, some on-stream dams can provide excellent foraging habitat for them. They can also travel across land to reach off-stream dams or travel along drainage channels after rainfall. So regulations allowing the use of these indiscriminate death traps in private dams do not prevent platypuses being drowned.
3. “I use these nets safely as I check them regularly.”
Platypuses are mammals like us. They only have a few minutes of air when diving, and if they are frantically searching for a way out of a trap, they will use this up even quicker. Checking nets regularly will not prevent their drowning.
4. “But they are sold in my local camping store so surely I can use them?”
Yes, and that’s part of the problem. While most responsible stores will inform customers of the regulations and risks, many don’t. These nets are also available in large fishing and outdoor stores and online, where no staff are available to share this information. The problem is compounded by the fact that many nets sold have little or no labelling.
5. “I wasn’t aware their use in public waterways in Victoria was illegal.”
The great news is, now you do, and you can share this information so others know.
6. “I’m unsure of the difference between an enclosed yabby trap, such as an opera house net, and a hoop or a drop net.”
Victorian Fisheries Authority has good information available on their website. Go to www.vfa.vic.gov.au
So how do we prevent this?
- We want owners/users to immediately stop using enclosed yabby traps and switch to the safer alternatives such as hoop or drop nets.
- We’d like to see retailers acknowledge the problem, show some corporate responsibility, and simply stop selling enclosed yabby traps immediately. Wouldn’t it be great if they considered a product recall or implemented an in-store discount/swap out scheme for safer nets?
- We’d like legislation and regulations in Victoria to be changed so the sale, ownership and use of enclosed yabby nets in any waterway is prohibited. There are platypus friendly alternatives that are virtually just as effective, such as hoop or drop nets.
So what can you do?
- Spread the word Many people are simply unaware of the regulations or about the risks that these nets pose, so please pass this information on. If you find any trap being used illegally, immediately report this to the relevant authorities. In Victoria you can call 13FISH any time of the day, or DELWP on 136186 during business hours.
- Talk to those who sell them If you go into a fishing/outdoor store, ask if they sell enclosed yabby traps, and if the answer is yes, explain the issue to them, and then ask them if there is a good reason they won’t stop?
- Engage with those who make policy Contact your local or state politicians, and politely ask them to support a change in regulations which ban the sale, ownership and use of enclosed yabby traps, and explain why. A key minister responsible for both fisheries and animal welfare related regulations is Minister Jaala Pulford, email: [email protected] The Environment Minister Lily D’Ambrosio can be emailed at: lily.d’[email protected] Or simply sign our petition at www.change.org.
- Report a sighting If you are ever lucky enough to see a platypus in the wild, please register the sighting using the platypusSPOT app available at www.platypusspot.org. The more we know about their distribution the better.
What are we (and others) doing?
In Victoria, a concerned group have been established (the Victorian Alliance for Platypus-Safe Yabby Traps), and we are working hard with relevant government authorities and like-minded organisations to try and get the use of enclosed yabby traps in all waters banned, as well as raise awareness around the issue. You can find us on Facebook and will update with developments.
At the end of the day, we have to ask ourselves, “Are a few yabbies worth causing the traumatic drowning death of our most iconic wildlife?”
We think the answer has to be a resounding ‘NO’, and call on all people who use them to stop, all retailers who sell them to stop, and all the relevant authorities with the power to do something, to change the regulations.
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