DOCUMENTS OBTAINED THROUGH FREEDOM OF INFORMATION
n 2018, the CSIRO published a scathing report"Heads in The Sand", on Australia’s apathy towards lead ammunition. In the same year, EPA were testing lead levels in ducks around Victoria. They kept the results from the public.
As reported by the ABC, documents recently obtained by RVOTDS through Freedom of Information (FOI), show lead levels in ducks “well above” food safety guidelines, at four of 23 public (duck shooting) waterways around Victoria: Serpentines Creek (Western Victoria), Richardson’s Lagoon (Northern Victoria), Heart Morass and Macleod Morass (Gippsland).
The extent of the contaminated ducks across the state is likely to be far greater because only four of eight “game" duck species were tested, and only at a small number of waterways. There are thousands of public lakes, streams, creeks, rivers, reservoirs and wetlands around Victoria where duck shooting is allowed. And ducks fly.
Lead ammunition was banned in duck shooting but is still illegally used as is reported most years. It is also used legally in shooting other animals such as native Stubble Quail, which occurs at Macleod Morass and Heart Morass. Each shotgun lead cartridge holds hundreds of lead pellets. Few strike the target. The rest fall into the sediments where waterbirds pick them up, mistaking them for grit (which they use to grind their food), posing the risk of poisoning themselves, and those who eat them. This includes people and secondary predators like protected eagles. Lead fragments can remain in ducks which are hit but not killed by a shotgun blast. Medics have long warned that lead is highly toxic to people and animals, even in tiny traces.
The documents obtained by FOI show EPA grappling with what to do. One assessment says “data was too limited to make any conclusions” with another showing an EPA manager contradicting that with: “Isn’t it clear?” Tests were repeated and results confirmed as “not an error”. Lead warnings have never been issued - not even precautionary advice since testing first identified the issue in 2018. The fact lead was found in ducks at shooting waterways across the state, has been kept from the public. Only a few inconsistent warnings have been issued about consuming ducks at a handful of wetlands in Gippsland due to PFAS contamination (a different substance). In response to a Question on Notice in June 2021 (#3821), which asked directly about lead in ducks at Heart Morass and MacLeod Morass, the Minister for Agriculture (now Minister for Health) said her department was “not aware of any publicly available studies of lead levels in ducks at Heart Morass or Macleod Morass”. Ministers have allowed four recreational duck (and quail) shooting seasons to take place since the lead issue was identified. The documents obtained via FOI can be viewed here:
Quotes by Regional Victorians Opposed to Duck Shooting inc:
"The danger to our wildlife and human populations of toxic lead ammunition, is just another reason why Victoria needs to ban the recreational shooting of ducks and quail as other states have done."
"The fact that ducks were found to have toxic lead levels outside food safety guidelines in about 20% of a small number of wetlands surveyed, and that ducks fly, suggests this danger is frighteningly widespread.”
“We are disappointed it took a not-for-profit group to bring awareness of this to Victorians. Government agencies are paid millions to keep Victorians and our protected wildlife safe. We seem to be doing their job.”
“It’s disappointing EPA are saying more ducks must be killed to enable more testing, when studies performed overseas, and now here, are unambiguous. Any further shooting- particularly with lead ammunition - risks the health of people and wildlife including protected species. When will the Victorian government just say "no" to bird shooters?"
There have been multiple radio stories around the state on this important issue as well as online, print and TV. A few articles below:
More links on this crucial topic:
Melbourne University here.
Studies of lead poisoning in swans in South Australia (at a duck shooting waterway) showed 40% of swans had chronic lead poisoning.
And another from April 2022 here. (Note GMA's Director of Strategy & Research co-authored this paper but GMA still allowed the shoots to continue in Victoria regardless. We believe this is a basis for negligence claims, for example by hunters and their families).
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