Speech on Platypus and Opera House Nets

12.07pm | September 06, 2017

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Australia faces a huge challenge to protect our unique wildlife. An unacceptable number of our animals such as the hairy nosed wombat and the iconic koala are vulnerable, endangered or face extinction.

Natural habitats are being cleared, river systems face pollution. The problem is complex and requires a coordinated and strategic approach between federal, state and local governments. To add an extra layer of complexity, many habitats occur on private lands and so we need to work with local communities. Indeed we are frequently spurred into action by motivated and passionate community groups who love the landscapes they share with Australian plants and animals. We have a long and difficult road ahead if we are to prevent further extinction.

Today I’m going to share with you some of the work of an impressive not-for-profit group in Victoria, the Australian Platypus Conservancy. Their research and advocacy shows us that sometimes in the middle of all this complexity, there is a simple answer. In this case, the need to stop using a yabby trap that unnecessarily, unintentionally and sometimes illegally kills platypuses and other fauna such as water-rats and turtles.

Despite a range of state and territory restrictions on traps in platypus habitats, the illegal use of traps by recreational anglers continues to kill this unique and extraordinary creature.

In freshwater waterways around our country, on public and private land, recreational fishers are setting nets to catch yabbies and marron. Many have bought the inexpensive nets from camping stores and are unaware that the practice is illegal or that their attempts to catch yabbies pose a serious threat to platypus.

A published study into the causes of death of platypus in Victoria found that 56% of deaths with an identifiable cause were due to drowning in illegal traps or nets set by recreational fishers.

About one-third of these cases involved use of enclosed traps, especially opera house nets, despite the fact they are banned in public waterways in that state[i].  Opera house nets are named for their similarity to the sails on the Sydney Opera House, two sails that are enclosed in nets. The fact is, once platypus enter, it is almost impossible them to escape before they drown. The photos of these dead animals – sometimes more than one – laid out on the riverbanks are heartbreaking.

The deadly risk posed by these particular nets has been quantified in research, which found:

-         The opera house style net prevented all animals tested from escaping within a time internal that would allow their survival, which was around two minutes.

-         Research into two other styles of net found that they allowed more than 80% of the animals in the test to escape and survive. The nets used in the trial were the modified opera house net and the closed top pyramid.

I’m not suggesting that we end yabbying. There are alternatives. Other styles of net are capable of successfully capturing yabbies without endangering platypus and other air-breathing fauna such as water-rats or turtles.

The researchers stated “Our findings suggest that opera house traps fitted with an opening in the roof should at least equal and potentially exceed the performance of standard opera house traps when deployed by recreational or commercial fishers to harvest edible-sized yabbies”

We are not managing this well.

Management of inland recreational fisheries is primarily a state and territory responsibility.

Most jurisdictions have attempted to address this issue - but their approaches are inconsistent, and compliance is low.

-         In Tasmania and Western Australia, opera house nets are banned in all waters.

-         In Victoria and ACT, they are banned in public waters only. No regulation exists for private and farm dams.

-         In New South Wales and Queensland, bans exist in specific geographic zones. However these can be complex and apply different standards in different parts of the state, including instructions like “east of the Newell Highway”.

-         In South Australia and the Northern Territory, there are no restrictions in place at all.

Unmodified Opera House nets are cheap, and widely available in fishing and camping shops around the country.

In New South Wales and some other states, opera house nets need to have a bycatch reduction device, which is a fixed ring fitted to the entrance. This would reduce the number of deaths, save for one big problem…

-         The nets are required by the Department to be modified with a fixed ring before they are used

-         But they are not required to be modified with a fixed ring before they are sold

-         And they are not required to be sold with information about the required modifications.

It’s not hard to imagine why compliance by unlicensed recreational yabby fishers is so low.

Balancing the needs of our growing cities and towns, and responsibly managing land for housing development and agricultural uses is a difficult task. The Federal, State and Territory and Local governments have a huge task ahead to protect habitats and wildlife.

I am not suggesting that we stop recreational fishing. We can use other types of traps or modified traps that significantly reduce the risk to platypus and still allow us to enjoy catching and eating yabbies. 

I like the idea of fishers getting out and using our rivers, creeks, lakes and dams if there is an approach that means they can enjoy a day out fishing and that can help protect Australia’s precious. Surely this is something we could make happen. We need to do better in promoting the safe, alternatives to dangerous opera house nets.

I have today written to the Minister for Environment and Energy, Josh Frydenberg, to ask what steps are being taken at the national level to mitigate these seemingly preventable deaths of our native fauna.

[i] Serena, Grant, Williams, Reducing bycatch mortality in crustacean traps: Effects of trap design on platypus and yabby retention rates, Fisheries Research 175 (2016) 43 – 50 


Letter to the Minister for Environment and Energy, Josh Frydenberg


Hon Josh Frydenberg MP

Minister for the Environment and Energy

PO Box 6022

House of Representatives

Parliament House

Canberra ACT 2600


Dear Minister,

I am concerned by the deaths of platypus, water rats and turtles in opera house traps. I am writing to ask you to tell me what steps are being taken at the national level to mitigate these seemingly preventable deaths of our native fauna? I enclose a report by the Australian Platypus ‘Resolving the Problem of Platypus Deaths in Enclosed Yabby Traps’ for your interest and action.

Yours sincerely,

Senator Jenny McAllister.