Shoot out continues over duck hunting

DISCONTENT is still swirling around the 2021 duck hunting season opening, with proponents and opponents exasperated by the announcement to lift some, but not all, restrictions.

While the season’s original announcement placed a two birds per day bag limit and protected the chestnut and grey teal from being shot north of the Princes Highway, earlier this month the Game Management Authority increased the bag limit to five birds per day, and allowed teal to be hunted.

The authority also announced it would be changing its usual source of information from the independent Eastern Australian Waterbird Survey to data from a new helicopter survey, undertaken in November 2020 by “experienced wildlife consultants”.

The pilot aerial survey found an estimated total population of 2.5 million ducks across Victoria, after flying over 650 waterbodies – including wetlands and farm dams.

An evaluation of the program, conducted by the Arthur Rylah Institute for Environmental Research, found the aerial survey was “an effective way of counting ducks”.

All other arrangements will remain the same – the season will begin Wednesday, May 26, and span 20 days, closing 30 minutes after sunset on Monday, June 14. Start times will be delayed until 8am for the first five days of the season.

Gippsland South MLA Danny O’Brien has called for the state government to open the season immediately, describing the original season announcement as “a political decision”.

“I said at the time that this decision flew in the face of evidence right around south-eastern Australia, indicating no particular threat to the duck population,” Mr O’Brien said.

“After increasing pressure on the Agriculture Minister to release the evidence this decision was based on, we are now seeing a backflip as that evidence comes to light.

“Even University of New South Wales waterbird expert, Professor Richard Kingsford, said last week that the overwhelming threat to duck numbers was not hunting, but loss of water in wetlands and rivers.

“With healthy duck numbers now acknowledged by the government, there’s no reason the season couldn’t start immediately.

“Duck season brings millions of dollars to our region, but when the government continues to ignore science and bows to a loud but small group of activists, it’s hunters and our local economy who pay the price.”

Regional Victorians Opposed to Duck Shooting recently sent a list of questions to the Game Management Authority’s chief executive Graeme Ford, asking for an explanation for the delayed decision to lessen restrictions.

The group asked why the authority had described its original long-term data sets – which found all waterbird and game bird indices were in serious decline – as “crucial”, but then scrapped 38 years of research in favour of data from a one-off count which only produced an estimated total number of ducks.

The group also questioned why the chestnut teal (which recorded low numbers in the Eastern Australian Waterbird Survey) was now able to be hunted, despite the helicopter count not differentiating between species.

A spokesperson for the group alleged Freedom of Information requests had proven senior staff within the taxpayer-funded regulator were duck shooters or members of hunting clubs themselves, until recently.

The spokesperson called for the recommendations to be scrutinised more closely, adding it was “high time the regulator was far more accountable”.

The group also recently took aim at Eastern Victoria MLC Melina Bath for “blindly” promoting Field and Game Australia and “the minority activity of bird shooting”, despite the fact many of her constituents – it says “arguably the vast majority” – were opposed.

A spokesperson for the organisation said there had been no cost-benefit analysis undertaken to support duck hunting, and for anyone in government to say otherwise was false.

Regional Victorians Opposed to Duck Shooting also tackled Ms Bath over her quoting in parliament of the total alleged spend by all types of recreational hunters ($356 million in 2019), instead of the portion relating specifically to duck shooter spend ($64.7 million), which actually “crashed” by 46 per cent between 2013 and 2019.

A Regional Victorians Opposed to Duck Shooting spokesperson said Ms Bath had responded, saying she “disputes” some of its “assertions”, referringe organisation to MPs in its “own electorate”, despite many members of the group living in eastern Victoria.

“We carefully fact check everything we put in print and asked her to clarify what it is she disputes,” the spokesperson said.

“We are confident our ‘assertions’ are correct – in fact Ms Bath is clearly quoted in the latest Hansard as giving an incorrect economic figure from duck shooting and hunting for regional Victoria.”

In a March parliament sitting, the state government agreed to Shooters, Fishers and Farmers Party MP Jeff Bourman’s motion to table all documents relation to duck season arrangements – a motion remarkably commended by politicians on both sides of the argument.

Mr Bourman has since announced he will present a petition in parliament calling for an extension to the season.

GMA listed Sale as the top town in Victoria for the total reported number of ducks harvested in 2020, despite the Environment Protection Authority Victoria’s warning not to consume ducks from the Heart Morass area because of the high levels of PFAS (per- and poly-fluorinated alkyl substances) found in local ducks.

According to the Department of Jobs, Precincts and Region’s Economic Contribution of Recreational Hunting in Victoria report, released last year, recreational hunting contributed $8 million to Wellington Shire’s economy in 2019.

Duck hunting accounted for $3.1 million of this (a drop from $8.4 million in 2013), with $2.3 million spent in Sale specifically.

Wellington Shire contributed the third highest duck hunting expenditure to the state in 2019, behind Greater Melbourne ($22.7 million) and Greater Geelong ($4.3 million).

Details of the 2021 duck season, including wetland closures, are available via www.gma.vic.gov.au.