Anti hunting lobby cries foul over Victoria’s wetland bird records

By Melissa Coade

May 27, 2021

wetlands
The Coalition Against Duck Shooting has accused Victoria’s Game Management Authority of falsifying the number of wetland birds in the state. (Image: Adobe/ehrlif)

A group named the Coalition Against Duck Shooting has accused Victoria’s Game Management Authority of falsifying the number of wetland birds in the state.

Campaign director, Laurie Levy, said that a recent survey conducted by the Coalition Against Duck Shooting had revealed ‘dangerously low numbers of waterbirds’ in Victoria. He suggested that the state authority responsible for recording the number of birds, the Game Management Authority (GMA), had ‘fudged’ the records to allow hunters to take home a higher number of bags by failing to take into account the birds’ summer migration trends in its population estimates.

“We believe that the GMA used a helicopter survey conducted five months ago in November 2020 to justify increasing the bag limit, but ignored the fact that most waterbirds would have flown north out of Victoria following the floods in Queensland and New South Wales,” Levy said.

The group argued that one of the reasons the GMA may have fixed the number of local Victorian birds was ‘in order to justify increasing the bag limit for duck shooters over the shortened 20-day shooting season’.

Speaking to The Mandarin, a GMA spokesperson would not be drawn on responding to the claim that numbers in a bird survey had been altered. He did explain, however, that the authority used a range of mechanisms to determine ‘sustainable harvest levels’ including season length, bag limits, hunting methods, and times and places hunting was permitted to occur. 

The spokesperson said that each year the GMA, along with the Department of Jobs, Precincts and Regions, Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning and Parks Victoria, conducted several monitoring activities to collect information relating to the harvesting and management of game species in Victoria. 

Each season, wetlands may be closed to duck hunting in order to protect rare and threatened waterbirds from being shot or to avoid disturbance to colonially breeding, migratory or susceptible species,” the GMA spokesperson said.

“Hunters who break the law may face significant fines and penalties, be prosecuted, have their equipment confiscated and lose their game and firearms licences,” he added. 

GMA’s November 2020 aerial survey pilot initiative was the first time the authority had attempted an aerial survey.

“As a result of the pilot aerial survey, the bag limit for the 2021 duck season was increased from two game ducks per day to five game ducks per day, and the restriction on hunting teal species was lifted,” the spokesperson said.

The survey estimated the number of game ducks in Victoria to be approximately 2.45 million birds on dams and wetlands based on aerial views of 650 randomly selected bodies of water, including wetlands and farm dams. 

The GMA also uses a long-running Eastern Australian Waterbird Survey to inform its advice to the government. This survey only counts a total proportion of the total bird population and relies on an ‘index of abundance’ instead of a total abundance measure to monitor population trends over time. 

According to the GMA spokesperson, the authority drew on these surveys to use the best available information to make recommendations to the government about bird bag limits. 

“All relevant data on waterbird populations, including state and eastern-Australian data, are considered when setting duck season arrangements and provided to the Victorian Government,” the spokesperson said.

Levy said that the animal welfare group believes that duck hunting is ‘legalised animal abuse on a large scale’ and it beggared belief as to why other state premiers had banned the activity decades ago but both major political parties in Victoria continued to support the ‘outdated recreational animal abuse’. He called on the state’s politicians to show some empathy for the injured birds over the interests of the duck hunters.

“Victorian governments continue to allocate millions of taxpayer dollars to prop up a dying activity for a dwindling number of duck shooters who make up only 0.2% of all Victorians,” Levy said.

“Yet no government money has ever been spent for the rescue and veterinary care of the tens of thousands of wounded victims that shooters always leave behind.”

Levy said that a group of volunteer members of the public have visited wetlands during duck shoots to assist the suffering birds ‘while GMA compliance officers stand meekly onshore’. This year he said volunteers would be joined by Wildlife Victoria’s mobile veterinary clinic and its veterinarians to treat wounded waterbirds.

“Native waterbirds flying overhead are usually shot in the belly and suffer shocking internal and nerve injuries as well as shattered and broken bones and smashed legs, wings and bills.  

“Without the dedicated help from volunteer rescuers and veterinarians, wounded native waterbirds would be left to suffer slow, agonising deaths,” Levy said.

The rescue team would be based in Stawell, Levy added, so that they could deploy teams to surrounding wetlands when needed.


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