Opera House nets are banned in NSW, Victoria and Tasmania, and Queensland are now reviewing their future.
While yabbies are the target, Queensland University platypus expert Tamielle Brunt said mammals and reptiles often become trapped inside the devices.
“Platypus swim into them after a feed and then can’t get out, they thrash around and they’re dead within minutes because they’re air breathing animals,” she said.
“But, it’s not platypus, it’s also rakali, water dragons, turtles and fish, so it’s an animal welfare issue as well as a conservation one.”
Why BCF are phasing out Opera House nets
BCF’s announcement follows ongoing frustration from wildlife advocates who have criticized their sale by the company — which along with Rebel and Super Cheap Auto are owned by Super Retail Group.
While the nets were killed with a warning to check nets regularly and advice on their use, platypus experts argue only a complete ban will ensure wildlife isn’t.
Following questions from Yahoo News Australia, an online advertisement for Opera House nets for sale in Queensland was promptly pulled from the BCF website.
A spokesperson for Super Retail Group then confirmed they would be going further and discontinuing sale.
“We recognise the role we can play in the community to promote conservation in Australia and actively educate, and encourage our customers to consider their environmental impact,” a Super Retail Group spokesperson said.
“While we currently offer restricted in-store sales of the products in Queensland in line with state guidelines, we have commenced a process to phase out all sales of Opera House nets by 1 July 2022.”
Online retailers continuing to set traps despite platypus deaths
Leading the charge against the nets, eBay banned their sale in 2018, a year before the Victorian government started taking action.
They were placed on a register of products which harm wildlife including glue traps and elephant ivory.
Speaking with Yahoo News Australia, eBay’s Regulatory Director, Mike Carson said the followed ban concerns raised by conservation groups.
“We made the decision that these are going to be illegal sooner rather than later,” he said.
“There’s a very real problem going on with harm to animals, today we can do something, we can step in right now.”
Despite the ban, two sellers on eBay were found by Yahoo News Australia to be openly selling Opera House nets last month. The company confirmed the listings were promptly removed.
Internet merchants remain one of the biggest suppliers of the traps, as most major bricks and mortar retailers have replaced them with open-topped alternatives which allow mammals to exit.
They are currently available on a number of fishing supplier websites, some of whom do not appear to restrict sales to states in which they are banned.
A number of online merchants, along with manufacturers of the traps, were approached for comment by Yahoo News Australia on multiple occasions, but they did not respond.
Platypus protections lagging despite extinction warnings
Platypus have lost around 22 per cent of their habitat over the last 30 years, and there is concern that their numbers have plummeted in some regions.
Population densities remain largely speculative and based on modeling, with estimates ranging from 30,000 to 300,000 in the wild.
Despite population strength being murky, factors driving their decline are undisputed.
Development and the impact of extreme drought and flood are resulting in habitat loss, and with population density so low, a single Opera House net can induce a local extinction.
While platypus are listed as vulnerable to extinction in Victoria and have been nominated as threatened federally, there is a concern amongst conservationists that governments aren’t working fast enough to protect them.
Three years on since Victoria recognised their decline, the state is yet to finalise a management plan to protect them.
The state’s Department of Environment (DELWP) declined a request to discuss the issue, but issued a statement and indicated a draft plan is expected by the end of 2022.
“Once developed, the plan will guide a longer term investment in research and monitoring, habitat protection and restoration and population augmentation including re-populating suitable rivers and creeks and enhancing genetic diversity through translocation,” DELWP Executive Director Biodiversity Division, James Todd said.
“It will also build on current recovery efforts from our partners and the Victorian community which support populations of this unique Australian icon to be healthy, valued and actively cared for now and into the future.”
Queensland continues to allow sale of Opera House traps
In Queensland, the Department of Fisheries (DAF) restricted the use of Opera House nets east of the Great Great Dividing Range to “reduce the risk to platypus”.
Changes were made to reduce trap entrance size, and alternative devices with open traps to allow escape were introduced.
DAF maintain that since these changes were made, they have received “no confirmed reports of platypus deaths in compliant traps.”
Despite the government’s assurance, platypus expert Ms Brunt maintains that allowing the sale of any Opera House net creates confusion amongst the fishing public.
She believes most platypus deaths go unreported, as traps are frequently set illegally, or get washed away.
“Dead platypus is a huge blow to a population and on a species that is One at risk of decline,” she said.
“We can reduce one risk, quite easily, why not?”
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