Recreational Victorian fishers have been put on notice after a spike in platypus drownings.Victorian recreational fishers planning to cast a line over the long weekend are on notice after a spate of platypus drownings linked to public holiday periods.
Eight years of data shows deaths of the iconic duck-billed animal spike near school or public holiday breaks, due to Sydney Opera House-shaped fishing nets being discarded in Victorian waterways.
“Opera house nets are an issue for platypus all year round but we’ve noticed the four-day weekend, combined with the favourable autumn fishing conditions that surround this holiday, make for a deadly combination,” state wildlife investigator Mike Sverns said on Thursday.
The Department of Environment data has shown all 13 recorded platypus drownings in state rivers, streams, creeks and dams in 2017 were caused by illegally used “ghost fishing” nets.
But the casualty rate might be a drop in the ocean, Mr Sverns reckons.
“Some experts believe that probably less than five per cent of drownings are reported or known about,” he added.
“With 13 drowning deaths reported in Victoria in 2017, that reported incidence equates to at least 260 platypus drownings per year.”
The department and the n Platypus Conservancy have traced 19 deaths of platypus and rakali – native water rats – over the past two-and-a-half years to dates close to Day, Labour Day, Easter, April school holidays and Queens Birthday.
The use of enclosed yabby nets – which trap the air-breathing, web-footed mammals – is currently banned in or near public Victorian fishing holes, but not across all waterways.
Fishers caught using these mesh traps face a maximum fine of $380,562 or up to two years in prison.
Victoria’s platypus population is already on the decline, with a preliminary report in December finding the species was “functionally extinct” in parts.