ILLEGAL hunting behaviour at the Heart Morass has been reported to local police.
Early Sunday and Monday evenings, nearby residents reported hearing multiple gunshots in pitch black conditions, well past the legal time slot for duck hunting.
The residents, who did not wish to be identified, shared concerns visibility would be too poor for hunters to be able to accurately identify what and where they were shooting, posing a serious danger to others in the area, as well as protected bird species and non-game wildlife.
The Gippsland Times understands while the behaviour was reported, police did not attend the scene.
The Game Management Authority is the control agency for duck hunting. Victoria Police works with the authority to provide an enforcement presence during the duck hunting season to deter illegal and unsafe behaviour.
According to the Game Management Authority, hunting must cease half an hour after sunset on each day, and cannot begin until half an hour before sunrise. Between last Wednesday and Sunday, shooting was also not permitted until 8am.
The penalty for not adhering to these time limits is a $3304 fine.
Under the relevant lockdown restrictions, which ended last night at 11.59pm, hunting was still allowed under exercise, but had to take place within five kilometres of the hunter’s home, and for a maximum of two hours each day.
The Heart Morass is within five kilometres of RAAF Base, East Sale, Cobains, parts of Dutson and the Heart.
A police spokesperson said depending on where the hunters live and where in the Heart Morass they hunt, they may fit inside the 5km zone.
Hunters could also only shoot with those in their own household, or with one other person, under the relevant COVID-19 restrictions at the time.
Anti-duck hunting group Regional Victorians Opposed to Duck Shooting said there were many other incidents across the state this season, describing photos circulating on social media of men in army fatigues with guns near built-up areas as “shocking”.
The group said reports made to the Game Management Authority about illegal shooting well before allowable time were responded to 24 hours later, requesting more information which would help them identify the perpetrator.
“This happens every shooting season,” group spokesperson Kerrie Allen said.
“Not only are regional families having to live with this happening on their doorsteps, but they also have to put themselves in harm’s way to collect evidence for the regulator to do its job as well.”
The group also reported an instance where hunters were caught flouting the five kilometre rule, but attending police were not accurately across COVID rules, and the hunters were allowed to continue on.
“Why shooting native birds was ever allowed to proceed during COVID when golf isn’t – is beyond us,” she said.
Ms Allen said the regulator was still unable to provide accurate maps of where shooting is not allowed, and failed to list current wetland closures on its website, with the GMA only mentioning Green Swamp, near Glenthompson, and excluding other closures at Kow Swamp, Reedy Lakes and the Richardson River.
“How are shooters supposed to know where they can shoot let alone how are the public meant to know where to avoid?” Ms Allen asked.
“Regional families have been totally forsaken on this issue year after year.”
On its website, the GMA said irresponsible or illegal behaviour damages the reputation of hunters and could create unsafe or unsustainable situations, adding it was important responsible and legal hunters encouraged the rest of the community to do the right thing, and not tolerate illegal or irresponsible behaviour.
In 2017, Pegasus Economics conducted an independent assessment of the effectiveness of the authority’s compliance and enforcement regime, which found non-compliance with hunting laws was commonplace and widespread, the authority was perceived by stakeholders and its own staff as unable to ensure compliance or effectively sanction offenders when laws were breached, and that the authority did not have sufficient cooperation or respect from its stakeholders.
In its three year update after the assessment, the authority said it had implemented most of Pegasus’ recommendations, with the remainder reliant on external organisations to implement.
People can report instances of illegal hunting via www.gma.vic.gov.au/enforcement/report-illegal-huntingonline, where they will be asked the time and location of the incident, number of people involved and a description of what happened.
Alternatively, they can phone a local police station.
EDIT: Sale Field and Game president Gary Howard claimed illegal hunting overheard locally recently did not take place at the Heart Morass. Mr Howard said he was in the Heart Morass at the time, and he and a group of camping hunters heard the shots, and agreed they came from a neighbouring property. Sale Field and Game do not condone illegal hunting practices. See here for more.