New rules released today for the upcoming duck hunt season have riled the passions of shooters and animal rights activists alike, both of whom are disappointed by the changes.
The most contentious of the Game Management Authority’s updated regulations is a delay in start times on the opening weekend of the season.
While hunting will be permitted from half an hour before sunrise until half an hour after sunset for most of the season, the GMA has ordered a 9am start on Saturday, March 17.
The next day will see hunting commence at 8am.
The changes are in response to what GMA chairman Brian Hine called “entirely unacceptable behaviour” during last year’s opening weekend, including early shooting, shooting of protected species and failing to retrieve shot birds.
“As Victoria’s hunting regulator, GMA’s key objective is to promote sustainability and responsibility in game hunting in Victoria,” Mr Hine said.
“The behaviour of some hunters on the opening weekend of the 2017 season was neither responsible nor sustainable.”
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But Regional Victorians Opposed to Duck Shooting spokeswoman Kerrie Allen, whose group lobbied for a ban on hunting, said the change was insufficient to protect birds from harm.
“We see this as an abhorrent disregard for wildlife, a despicable lack of consideration for rate paying rural communities whose lives are significantly and adversely affected,” she said.
She also raised concerns about disruptions and noise pollution caused by gunfire during the three-month season.
State upper house MP Daniel Young, from the Shooters, Fishers and Farmers party was also angered by the change, believing a shift the start time closer to 10am when protesters were allowed to enter wetlands was “a knee-jerk reaction” and “a recipe for disaster”.
“Protesters have proven to be extremely hostile towards hunters,” he said.
“The traditional times allowed hunters to go in without interference and plenty of time to bag their limit for the day.
“There is no justification for the new opening time because it does not solve any perceived issues.”
Among the changes announced today are an increase in the pass score shooters require before receiving a licence to hunt from 75 per cent to 85 per cent.
But no shooting accuracy tests meant animals would continue to be maimed, Ms Allen said.
RSPCA Victoria chief executive officer Liz Walker said her organisation was also in favour of a hunting ban in 2018, as well as a reduction in the bag limit for each hunter.
Dr Walker believed these measures would enable game bird populations to adequately recover.
The GMA heeded neither of the RSPCA of their recommendations, with a 10-bird daily limit remains in place this year.
The animal welfare body put the number of birds wounded and left to die in wetlands at 43,000.
That figure is in addition to the estimated 438,353 birds killed and collected.
Dr Walker conceded hunting remained a legal activity in Victoria and said so long as it continued, the RSPCA would advocate for compulsory shotgun education for hunters – including a component on reducing wounds to birds – and a practical shooting test for all hunters.
Also remaining in place in 2018 is a ban on hunting blue-winged shovelers, with the species’ numbers still low.
But Mr Young disagreed with the GMA’s position that the animal’s numbers would be significantly impacted by hunters.
Mr Hine said the GMA would police waterways throughout the season, monitoring shooter behaviour and duck numbers.
But activists like Ms Allen believed it was difficult to enforce shooting at places not earmarked as hunting sites and where monitoring might not occur.
“The true number of native waterbirds killed and maimed including rare and threatened species, cannot possibly be known or even estimated,” Ms Allen said.
Also in the firing line of Mr Young was the timing of the regulations’ release, saying news this close to the season was “disingenous” to hunters, who needed time to plan their hunting trips, and the communities that service them.
“Additionally, it is a missed opportunity for the state to capitalise on the international tourism from hunters who would make the journey to hunt in Victoria, if they could be assured of the days hunting would be allowed,” Mr Young said.
Hunters and the general public are urged to report any illegal hunting to the GMA through its website www.gma.vic.gov.au or the Customer Service Centre on 136 186 or by contacting Crime Stoppers on 1800 333 000, or Victoria Police.