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Working through Christmas for shooters' sakes?

Last Friday, stakeholders were given information in order to make submissions to the Game Management Authority regarding the next recreational native duck shooting season due to commence in March 2022. With submissions closing Jan 6, we will again be working over Christmas/ New Year. The rush it appears, is solely to get an early decision on the 2022 duck shooting season, to give duck shooters the maximum time to plan their holidays.

The results of the latest (39th) East Australian Annual Waterbird Survey - the largest most robust long term dataset available, which has been conducted over one third of our continent every year over the past four decades, were provided to us Friday 17th Dec.

They are alarming.

  • 48% of wetlands surveyed had no birds.

  • Waterbirds are 41% down on last year.

  • “Game” ducks are down by more than half (58%) on last year and are at just 25% of the long term average.

  • Breeding is still well below long term average and ibis (non-game) are responsible for most (83%) of it.

  • All major EAWS indices show significant long term declines.

  • All the above, is despite record rains.

We wonder if these shocking statistics will make the "key points" of the regulator's recommendation to Ministers.

Long term trends are more informative for predicting population status than year to year fluctuations. But no doubt shooters will be pushing results of their second ever (superfluous yet taxpayer funded) helicopter survey instead, in the hope the picture may look better to justify their recreational bird shoot.

Previous governments have cancelled duck shooting seasons for less dire environmental conditions.

Our concern is the current regulator seems, too often, to make recommendations re bird shoots, based on something other than long term science. We believe it’s in the public interest to know what that something is. We are still awaiting documents from GMA that we requested via Freedom of Information (FOI) in September, relating to the last minute increase in bird numbers allowed to be shot in 2021.

Graph source: Aerial Survey of Waterbirds in Eastern Australia October 2021

Secret State

In just 18 months, RVOTDS have submitted over 30 FOI requests – mainly to the hunting regulator – due to surprising difficulty to obtain what would seem basic information from an agency that should have it. Over one in three of our requests to government agencies have resulted in escalation to the Office of the Victorian Information Commissioner due to failure to respond.

Basic information, such as approximately how many, or what percentage of, public waterways are open to shooters, the regulator cannot or will not answer. Many people including MPs are under the false impression that shooting is only allowed to occur at a couple of hundred waterways. We know – as does the regulator - there are thousands, most neither signposted nor monitored and often near family homes and other recreational users. If the regulator can’t say where they are – or even estimate their number, how can they monitor them for public safety, or impacts to threatened species?

This is a statutory body funded by taxpayers, and we believe this information should be public. It is disappointing to have to fight for it through FOI.

Our FOI requests which have been answered, confirm that no risk assessments nor desk top studies have been carried out regarding the proximity of homes to shooting areas. Only about 80 waterways – in a good year – are monitored by authorities. Further, no social or economic impact studies regarding impacts of hunting have been carried out on the non-hunting community despite it being a requirement under the GMA Act:

  • S6 h) to monitor, conduct research and analyse the environmental, social and economic impacts of game hunting and game management: and

  • S6 i) to make recommendations to relevant Ministers in relation to - iii) declaring public land open or closed to game hunting, open and closed seasons.

  • S8A b) states GMA must have regard to the principle of triple bottom-line assessment, which means an assessment of all the economic, social and environmental costs and benefits, taking into account externalities.

WITS - It's a wonder.

Another piece of information which has been surprisingly difficult to obtain is the number of shooters who have passed their WIT (Waterfowl Identification Test) per year since 2005.

In their Annual Reports, the regulator mentions an average pass mark and the number of WITs conducted. But as for the number passed each year, “no documents are in existence which contain the information requested”.

Our research into what information is publicly available, shows around 40 percent of today’s duck shooters passed their WIT more than 16 years ago.

The more robust practical test for shooters (think of an actual practical driving test before one is able to drive a car on our roads) has had even worse take up by shooters.

FOI has shown that between 2015 and 2018 inclusive, only 116 duck shooters undertook the taxpayer funded SEP (Shotgunning Education Program). In 2018-2019 when it was re-badged to the “Game Bird Masterclass”, it attracted only 23 duck shooters. As we are constantly told there are 25,000 licensed duck shooters, there is an appalling lack of interest in accuracy. That’s a lot of shooters with firearms out on public wetlands who have only sat a species identification test and, it seems, a long time ago.

Quotes by RVOTDS inc:

In NSW recreational duck shooting is banned, but there are annual risk assessments for any other form of hunting in public areas. In SA, quail shooting was banned the last two years in a row due to concerns for sustainability and a lack of data regarding their populations. In Victoria, there are no risk assessments, community sentiment and residents’ complaints are ignored and there have been full native quail shoots despite no understanding of quail populations. There seems to be something very wrong with hunting decisions in this state.”

"The GMA Act is clear. GMA can make recommendations to close areas to hunting. So why have they not recommended areas from which they have received numerous complaints because shooting occurs less than 30 meters from residents’ homes, or areas where 483 local signatories requested a ban on duck shooting including the local Council (vs 11 locals who wanted duck shooting to remain)?"

"With only 7,700 active duck shooters (GMA data), why do so many thousands of public waterways need to be open to shooting? With one in four Victorians now living in the regions, the increasing plight of threatened species in our state and the downwards spiral of our native waterbirds, wouldn’t it make sense that some wetlands could be spared from shooting? Remember, in the first year birdwatching data was collected, over 1.4 million tourists birdwatched around Australia and spent over $2.88 billion."

RVOTDS would like to take this opportunity to thank all our supporters and volunteers who work tirelessly to promote the plight of our native birdlife. Together, we will continue to raise our voices. For our beautiful native birds who cannot speak for themselves, and the communities who love being home to them, Thank you.

May you enjoy some time with loved ones over the Christmas season.


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