The actions of a few have tarnished the reputation of all responsible and ethical hunters and renewed pressure on the Victorian Government and regulators.
The cacophony of shots ringing out across the Kerang marshes well before the official start time for the 2017 Victorian Duck Season was just the beginning.
Those hunters who started were shooting out of season, an illegal act publicly condemned by Field & Game Australia, but worse was to come. The Coalition Against Duck Shooting collected and dumped on Parliament the carcasses of 810 waterbirds. Clearly the bulk of their haul was legally shot game birds but there were non-game species: freckle duck and blue-wing shoveler, a game bird excluded from the bag this season.
While responsible hunters might want to argue the detail, the spectacle had immediate impact along with additional issues observed by the Game Management Authority (GMA).
The Koorangie State Game Reserve, comprising Lake Bael Bael and First, Second and Third Marsh (collectively known as the Marshes), was closed to hunting by the weekend after opening.
GMA chief executive officer Greg Hyams said the decision followed a survey that identified significant numbers of freckled and blue-billed ducks on the reserve but it was also clear the events of opening weekend weighed most heavily on the decision.
“Given that at least 75 Freckled duck and 22 blue-billed duck were illegally destroyed at this wetland complex over the opening weekend, the loss of any of these threatened birds would be unacceptable,” Mr Hyams said.
In other words, given the irresponsible and illegal actions of a minority of hunters on the wetlands, the GMA could not take the risk of allowing hunting to continue while protected species were present.
FGA has fought hard for more than two years to establish a course of action that keeps wetlands open and instead manages risk when protected species are present. Given evidence of shooting protected birds, through either misidentification or illegal actions, and the unethical failure of hunters to retrieve hundreds of game birds, there really was no case we could argue with a straight face.
FGA publicly condemned what occurred and accepted the closure decision even though, regrettably, it would affect the vast majority of hunters who are ethical and comply with hunting regulations.
We know members are appalled by what occurred and angry at the damage inflicted on our reputation and the cause of duck hunting in Victoria.
This is the proverbial ‘two steps back’ but we will continue to stride forward — we simply have to change our path. Having recognised the problem, Field & Game Australia is working at a high level to ensure our organisation and our members can be part of the solution.
Many of you will have seen the ABC 7.30 Report story featuring anti-duck hunting protesters discovering pits containing nearly 200 whole ducks in the Koorangie State Game Reserve.
Again, angered and frustrated hunters will point out the obvious lack of provenance with the discovery, given 7.30 was only relying on footage supplied by the Coalition Against Duck Shooting (CADS).
There is no evidence as to who buried the ducks and CADS should have called in authorities rather than pull out the video camera. Stunt or not, it is again the spectacle and not the detail that damages the perception of hunting.
Ethical hunting as practiced by FGA members is about taking what you need and respecting the ducks by using what you take. So, it doesn’t matter how the birds were buried, they were not in a hunter’s bag and that is anathema to genuine hunters.
In an interview with 7.30, GMA chairman Brian Hine revealed that the dead and injured birds found on the marshes had prompted his organisation to review duck hunting licence arrangements.
“Our responsibility as a game management authority is to ensure that hunting in Victoria remains sustainable and responsible, and this indicates clearly neither,” he said.
Mr Hine said while it was not illegal to bury whole birds, it was clearly unethical.
“It’s possible there were a number of hunters there who shot their legal entitlement of birds, who don’t value the bird and don’t value the meat, and then buried them,” he told 7.30.
“It’s also a likelihood that they have potentially shot 10 birds on the day, their legal bag limit, and these birds have been above their bag limits.”
Mr Hine said, either way, it was extremely concerning.
Field & Game Australia is equally concerned, as are our members who we encourage to report illegal and unethical behaviour to Crimestoppers on 1800 333 000.
Speak up, take action, for the future of duck hunting.
—by Darren Linton