The start to the 2018 Victorian Duck Season has demonstrated clearly that hunters abide by the regulations and endeavour to hunt sustainably and humanely, but that hasn’t stopped the attacks.
The Victorian Game Management Authority (GMA) counted 2100 hunters on the 38 Victorian wetlands where enforcement officers were present during the opening weekend.
For the first time, a contractor was brought in to operate high-end drones over popular wetlands in the Kerang region. The drones are capable of flying at a height of two or three kilometres and still check if a hunter has shaved.
The GMA confirmed post-opening that the only footage being used to investigate an offence is of a person (presumably a protester) interfering with a hunter.
Lake Cullen and Lake Elizabeth were the focus of activity with 170 protesters and heightened enforcement to go with the new opening times and regulations.
The GMA reported no early shooting at any of the wetlands where enforcement was present, including Lake Cullen. Hardly surprising given that barely a shot was fired on opening morning.
That did not stop Sue Pennicuik, the Greens Upper House member for Southern Metropolitan using the privilege of Question Time in the Victorian Legislative Council to put her take on the record.
“In the last sitting week I asked you about the number of compliance officers and police that would be deployed across Victoria’s wetlands for the opening of the duck shooting season given the massacre of birds at Koorangie marshes last year and the release of the Pegasus report, which stated that it is impossible to police duck shooting across the wetlands. In a written response to me you stated that this year duck hunters are on notice and that that type of behaviour will not be tolerated. However, there are widespread reports of illegal behaviour by duck hunters across Victoria, including bags of ducks being found dumped on the road; shooters not retrieving birds, which I witnessed myself at Lake Cullen; shooting too early and shooting too late after dark; and shooting from moving boats. My question, Minister, is: how is the government going to prevent this behaviour for the remainder of the season?”
Agriculture Minister Jaala Pulford confirmed there were no reports of shooting early and that 20 hunters were found in breach of regulations and many were what would be considered “minor offences”; she gave the following breakdown:
“As I indicated, there were no reports of hunters shooting early. Two hunters will receive infringement notices for failing to make reasonable attempts to retrieve a downed bird, and a further three hunters receive a written warning for failing to comply. Two people will be prosecuted for taking protected wildlife; the firearms of one of those hunters were seized. A group of three hunters will be prosecuted for hunting in a closed area; that was on Sunday, March 18, and all three had their firearms seized. There were some other hunting offences which we would describe as, relative to the others, minor offences: one for hunting from a moving boat, one for somebody not having their game licence, one for possession of toxic shot on a state game reserve, one instance of failing to retain a fully feathered wing and one of hunting with toxic shot. There were some written warnings for some other matters: failing to kill on recovery, possession of toxic shot, hunting from a moving boat and failure to retain a fully feathered wing — one instance of each.”
Still, the Greens MP pressed on: “You cannot be looking very hard if you have not heard of any reports of early shooting, because they are pretty widespread, but I am happy to furnish you with that and the other reports of behaviour. I have to say that my personal observation at Lake Cullen was that on the breaches that I saw, we actually had to encourage the GMA officers to do something about it, including one duck which appeared to have been shot by a rifle and which I will be following up with you.”
The Ministers office confirmed more than a week later that no further information had been provided.
The exchange is typical of the public debate over duck hunting, where the evidence, in this case, almost universal compliance with hunting regulations, is ignored because it does not help the anti-hunting cause.
Birds Australia, which once accepted the sustainable use of wildlife but now opposes duck hunting as a matter of policy, continues to engage as a key stakeholder, particularly around wetland closures.
We had the bizarre case of the western side of Hird Swamp State Game Reserve being closed on opening weekend to minimise disturbance to Australasian bittern. The swamp opened to hunting on the Monday morning, so does that mean the bittern only use it as a weekender?
BA’s April newsletter had duck hunting as the lead, stating unambiguously: “Native waterfowl are still killed in duck shooting seasons in Victoria, SA and Tasmania. Birdlife Australia has successfully ensured 12 Victorian wetlands are closed to hunting, but our ultimate aim is to have the entire season banned.”
This would appear to indicate BA’s sole goal in participating in closure discussions is to stop hunting where it can, and everywhere if possible. Is this a credible starting point for what should be an evidence-based process?