A SHORTER duck hunting season will take place in Victoria, the state government has announced.
The decision has outraged shooters and duck hunting opponents.
The five-week season will begin at 8am on Saturday, May 2, and close 30 minutes before sunset on Monday, June 8.
The restricted season is in response to the prolonged dry conditions which have led to low duck numbers and reduced habitat.
The Game Management Authority provided its advice on the 2020 duck hunting season to the government before the height of the summer bushfires in Victoria.
The authority has subsequently advised the government that the bushfires have had a minimal direct influence on current duck populations and habitat.
Hunters will be restricted to three game ducks per day throughout the season, with the hunting of Blue-Winged Shoveler prohibited for the entire season.
Last year's season was reduced from 12 to nine weeks, with hunters restricted to four birds a day on the opening weekend, and five daily for the remainder.
During the opening weekend, hunting can start at 8am on both days and must cease by 30 minutes after sunset.
For the remainder of the season, hunting can start half an hour before sunrise and must stop half an hour after sunset.
The arrangements for duck season are based on analysis of habitat and waterbird surveys conducted across eastern Australia and other data relating to game duck abundance, habitat distribution and climate.
The GMA and partner agencies, including Victoria Police, will be patrolling public land and private properties to ensure compliance with hunting, animal welfare and public safety laws.
As in previous years, the GMA will continue to monitor conditions in the lead-up to and during the season.
Where warranted, wetlands may be closed to hunting to protect concentrations of rare threatened species.
Field and Game Australia said the announcement was a "political compromise, not a decision based solely on the available evidence".
In its submission to government, FGA advocated for six-bird per day limit, which it claimed would also encourage hunters to travel and spend money in regional communities.
The FGA said the government ignored an opportunity to provide incentive for more than 25,000 hunters to travel long distances to support regional communities affected by recent bushfires.
FGA chief executive Dean O'Hara said the season setting process remained flawed.
"The Victorian government needs to deliver on its commitment to implement an adaptive harvest model which will take the politics out of season setting and instead rely on scientific facts and data," he said.
"Given the delays, the uncertainty and the now the compromised outcome for the 2020 duck season, the sooner politics is taken out of game management decisions the better."
FGA chairman Peter Hawker urged members to take up the opportunity to hunt in 2020.
"The camaraderie of the camp and outings on our favourite wetlands are more important this year than ever, with many of our members being CFA volunteers, farmers, tradies and small business people profoundly affected by the terrible fires around regional Victoria," he said.
"With the community angst about the fires and the prominence of the climate change debate, it would have been easy and politically convenient for the government to abandon the season altogether.
"Let's make the most of it."
Shadow minister for agriculture Peter Walsh said green ideology had "trumped logic", with a severely shortened season that would take money out of country communities at a time when they desperately need the tourism boost.
"Hunting injects more than $430 million into the state's economy every year, providing a healthy boost for country communities - including those picking up the pieces after this summer's catastrophic bushfires," he said.
"Our responsible, legitimate hunters travel long distances to stay and spend in some of our smallest communities, but Labor's made sure there's little incentive by slashing the daily bag limit."
Gippsland South MLA Danny O'Brien said it was disappointing that the state government had "ignored scientific advice" and severely curtailed the 2020 duck season.
"This decision is a further economic blow to Gippsland at a time we need it least," he said.
Duck seasons brings in millions to our region, particularly this year when Gippsland's wetlands are full while some in the north are still suffering from drought.
"After the bushfires and the subsequent tourism downturn we really needed an injection of visitors.
"Instead of listening to the experts, the Labor Government has again chosen politics over fact and emotion over reason - and it will be to Gippsland's cost."
But Coalition Against Duck Shooting campaign director Laurie Levy said it was "blatantly obvious" the government should have called a moratorium on duck shooting this year.
"During the catastrophic bushfires that destroyed billions of native animals, birds and reptiles, we applauded the Andrews government's investment of $17. 5 million for the rescue and medical treatment of injured wildlife, as well as the back-up helicopter food drops," he said.
"However, now that the fires are finally out, we are dismayed that the Andrews government can so callously turn its back on our native waterbirds by supporting the violent fetishes of a dwindling number of duck shooters.
"This decision is even more disturbing since the Andrews government recognises that animals are sentient beings capable of suffering and feeling fear, happiness, stress and pain.
"The situation is so bad for native waterbirds that even extinction may be a much kinder option, rather than having to suffer the unnecessary violence inflicted by a dying breed of recreational duck shooters."
RSPCA Victoria chief executive Liz Walker said cancelling the season would have been the best decision to support the sustainability of waterbird populations.
"We have continued to be concerned by the data provided in the Aerial Survey of Wetland Birds in Eastern Australia year-on-year, which demonstrates the dire conditions that the wetland birds are facing, including the compelling evidence of longer term declines in game bird abundance," Dr Walker said.
"This year we have the added consideration of ongoing bushfires impacting Victoria's birdlife.
"We believe our already stressed waterbird populations will be adversely affected, even with a modified season."
Details of the 2020 duck season, including any wetland closures, will be regularly updated on the GMA website.