Victoria authorises duck hunting season despite lowest numbers in 34 years – The Guardian

The Victorian government has authorised a full duck hunting season for the first time since its election in 2014, despite a national ecological survey finding that waterbird abundance is the lowest it has been in 34 years.

The state’s agriculture minister, Jaala Pulford, said the government would not impose additional bag limits on hunters in 2017, meaning hunters are allowed to shoot 10 birds each, the legislated maximum number of birds, every day of the 12-week season, starting on 18 March.

The decision followed calls last year from the shooting lobby to introduce a five-year moratorium on hunting restrictions, which it said would provide valuable data about game bird numbers – by counting birds shot – that could inform policy decisions about sustainable hunting.

The only additional restriction imposed in 2017 is a ban on hunting blue-winged shoveler ducks, the numbers of which have fallen too low.

It is a significant change from 2016, when bag limits were set at eight birds for each hunter on opening day and four a day thereafter; and 2015, when the limits were eight on opening day and five a day thereafter.

Hunting groups welcomed the decision, saying there was little evidence reduced bag limits actually reduced the number of birds shot, which the chairman of Field and Game Australia, Rob Treble, said was about four birds per hunter for each day of hunting. “A return to an unmodified bag limit will encourage hunters to revisit their favourite spots to sustainably harvest wild food for their table and regional communities will benefit from that increased visitation,” he said.

Decisions about hunting seasons are usually based on the annual eastern Australian waterbird survey, run by the University of New South Wales. The 2016 survey, conducted in October, found total waterbird abundance was the lowest recorded in the survey’s 34-year history, and that despite an increase in the number of birds breeding over the unusually wet winter, breeding abundance was still below long-term averages.

The abundance of game bird species, it said, were “all well below long-term averages, in many cases by orders of magnitude”. Game bird species numbers are even lower than they were in 2007 and 2008, when previous Labor premiers Steve Bracks and John Brumby respectively decided not to allow hunting.

Pulford, in a statement announcing the 2017 season dates on Tuesday, said a “significant increase in waterbird breeding and extensive and widespread habitat availability … allowed game ducks to breed for a second time and disperse widely across the landscape.”

She said the decision to allow a full hunting season followed the development of the waterfowl conversation harvest model, which is part of the government’s new $5.3m sustainable hunting action plan. The plan said the harvest model used the “best scientific methods to predict the impact of environmental factors and hunting on game duck populations”.

Guardian Australia has asked to see the model.

A spokeswoman for Animals Australia, Glenys Oogjes, dismissed Pulford’s comments as “spin” and said one good breeding year did not mean bird numbers had recovered. “Breeding occurred this year because there was a wet year but what that means is … that the fledglings, the young, are the ones that are going to be the target of recreational hunters,” Oogjes told ABC radio.

“The birds that should have been the basis of trying to start to build these numbers, that have been in decline for decades, are going to be shot out of the sky. To suggest that that’s sustainable is quite ludicrous.”

Birdlife Australia recommended the 2017 duck season be banned in a submission to the Game Management Authority in December. In a statement, its chief executive, Paul Sullivan, accused the government of making a decision “based on speculation, not science”.

Laurie Levy, campaign director for the Coalition Against Duck Shooting, said it was “absolutely disgraceful” to allow duck hunting with numbers so low. “This government would have to be the worst for native waterbirds, and that includes the Kennett years,” Levy told Guardian Australia.

Both Levy and Oogjes said they opposed duck hunting no matter the population numbers, saying it was cruel and masked the illegal hunting of other native birds.

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