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Duck hunting changes draw strong reactions

DUCK hunting season changes have been met with contrasting response as interested parties and stakeholders vie to garner public support for their opposing positions.

Two months ago the State Government announced the parameters of the upcoming hunting season, however based on a recently released helicopter survey by the Game Management Authority (GMA) that “found an estimated total population of almost 2.5 million game ducks”, some of those limitations were changed on Wednesday, April 14.

The government announced it would increase this year’s duck hunting season bag limit from the initially-decided two birds to five and also removed the ban on chestnut teal or grey teal being shot north of the Princes Highway - however the length of the season remained the same.

The news was welcomed by Western Victoria MP, Bev McArthur who said the government should consider extending the season further and not be “beholden to left-wing extremists on the crossbench”.

“Duck hunting is a perfectly legitimate recreational activity that provides a valuable outdoor experience to its participants and economic benefits to rural towns,” she said.

“Duck hunters do commendable conservation work in many wetland areas and ensure numerous water species flourish not just the small percentage that are hunted over a very limited period of time.

“It’s good to see the Victorian Government somewhat coming to their senses by relaxing their heavy-handed approach to duck hunting.

“Not only should bag limits be increased, but the season should be extended, so duck hunters are able to partake in their pastime with less interference from ideologues.”

Agriculture shadow minister and Nationals leader, Peter Walsh voiced his support of the decision citing the new evidence showed “favourable seasonal conditions have supported sustainable populations this year” but said Daniel Andrews and agriculture minister, Mary-Anne Thomas “must take it one step further by immediately opening the season, instead of waiting until May 26”.

Speaking after the announcement, Mr Walsh reiterated his support of hunters.

“Today’s embarrassing – and long overdue – backflip to increase the bag limit from two to five birds per day and to remove the bizarre geographical restrictions on teal species, only confirms what hunters already knew – the Andrews Labor Government got it wrong,” he said.

“Victoria’s hunting community proudly takes a leading role in the conservation of our wetlands and environments to ensure the sustainability of wetland species.”

RSPCA Victoria was opposed to the late season changes and claimed the new survey wasn’t reliable enough to reach those decisions.

“We are very concerned that data from a trial pilot survey has been used to make changes to restrictions imposed on this year’s season,” RSPCA Victoria chief executive, Liz Walker said.

“Particularly considering the pilot’s own report outlines several recommendations for changes, modifications, and improvements to the survey’s methodology.

“The need for these modifications suggests that the survey data is not as rigorous as it could be.

“It is truly disheartening to see that this pilot program has overridden the previous decision to heavily restrict the season based on genuine concerns for duck species abundance in Victoria.”

Animal Justice Party MP, Andy Meddick took an opposing view, claiming “bias” in the new survey and believed there was more reliable data.

“The Kingsford study has been operating for over 30 years and is entrusted to report waterbird abundance ahead of GMAs recommendations to the minister,” he said.

“This year they found waterbirds had dropped a further 23 per cent, bringing eastern Australia’s total waterbird loss to 90 per cent in the past four decades - it should have cancelled the season.

“There are so many unanswered questions around how data like this results in the killing of birds at all, but this year heavier restrictions reflected an admission that duck shooting is finally on its way out.    

“It’s not lost on me that the GMA has updated the government with their own survey to trigger a backflip on season arrangements.

“It only highlights the major flaw in having a regulatory body for shooters, made up of shooters.”

GMA chief executive, Graeme Ford defended the new survey’s accuracy and said the different methodology was superior as previous approaches “only counted a proportion of the total population so did not give a total estimate of the number of game ducks in Victoria”.

“The survey methodology employed in the November 2020 helicopter survey has allowed us to estimate for the first time the total number of ducks in Victoria,” he said.­­­

“Prior to the new helicopter survey, game duck populations were assessed based on the Eastern Australian Waterbird Survey (EAWS), which counts waterbirds, including game ducks, on waterbodies over one hectare in size along the ten 30 kilometre wide flight paths, from northern Queensland to southern Victoria and south-east South Australia.

“The number found from the helicopter survey is much higher than previous methodologies have indicated and means that the sustainable harvest level can be increased.”

Mr Ford believed the old and new data collection techniques were incomparable.

“The EAWS counts birds across the 10 flight paths throughout eastern Australia,” he said.

“Two of these flight paths cover parts of Victoria. As the EAWS uses a fixed-wing aircraft flying at almost 150k/hr, it is not possible to count small wetlands and farm dams – meaning it underestimates bird numbers compared to the new aerial pilot, which can count birds in these smaller water bodies.

“This data cannot be compared with Victoria’s pilot aerial game duck survey, which estimates total abundance for the whole of Victoria.”

However, both Mr Meddick and the RSPCA maintained duck hunting was cruel.

“To say I am disappointed would be an understatement,” Mr Meddick said.

The 2021 duck hunting season will start on Wednesday, May 26 and will last 20 days, closing 30 minutes after sunset on Monday, June 14.

Hunting start times will be delayed until 8am for the first five days of the season and the GMA said it would continue to monitor conditions in the lead up to and during the season and where warranted, may close wetlands to hunting to protect concentrations of rare, threatened species.

The GMA and partner agencies, including Victoria Police, will be patrolling both public lands and private properties to ensure compliance with hunting, animal welfare and public safety laws over the hunting season.

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