On National Threatened Species Day we pay tribute to the 39 threatened and near threatened species of waterbirds which call Victorian wetlands home, often collateral damage in the state's recreational native bird shoots.
Blue-billed Duck picture Eleanor Dilley
Shooters' "harvest estimates" of the hundreds of thousands of birds shot each year in our state - even in "restricted" seasons - do not include birds including protected species shot and left behind.
Some examples listed here;
Box Flat 2013: "The bodies of about 760 game ducks and 155 non-game birds were left on the water at Box Flat Flood Plains near Boort. The shooting happened on opening weekend of duck season." (ABC March 2013)
Lake Toolondo 2016: "The Andrews Government is headed for a showdown in the courts over the illegal shooting of dozens of rare and threatened birds during the opening of the duck season." (The Age April 2016)
Kerang 2017: "The total number of illegally shot freckled ducks now stands at 112. The latest find takes the total number of birds gunned down in the opening weekend shooting spree to 1,247." (Medianet March 2017).
Sadly the total number of protected species killed is likely much larger because the vast majority of waterways where duck shooting is allowed, are not monitored.
The shooting of non-game / protected species has been occurring for decades.
A report recently obtained by RVOTDS through Freedom of Information regarding duck seasons between 1988 and 1994, shows between 304 and 972 protected species were found illegally shot each year at just a small number of Victorian wetlands which happened to be monitored.
These mainly consisted of Freckled Duck - Australia's rarest waterfowl and Blue-billed duck, both species unique to our country.
Others included Galah, Australian Pelican, Musk Duck, Australian Magpie, corella, ibis, raven and tern species, Barn owl, Yellow-billed Spoonbill, Red-necked Avocet, White-faced Heron, Silver Gull, Black Swan and migratory waders. (Thirty-eight dead ducklings were also collected, not included in any overall numbers.)
In 1994, in addition to dead protected birds confirmed as shot, 36 dead juvenile Yellow-billed Spoonbills, Great Cormorants and Darters were recovered just from Lake Lyndger and Lake Buloke after opening weekend, proven to have died from causes related to stress and drowning.
Our crashing numbers of migratory birds - for which Australia is under numerous International obligations to protect - are particularly vulnerable to shooting disturbance.
It’s not hard to see why the latest Victorian “State of The Environment” report showed the status of threatened species which are wetland dependent was unknown and the data poor.
According to Game Management Authority (GMA), the numbers of protected species illegally shot each season are not quantified.
This horrific fact is confirmed by Arthur Rylah Institute (ARI) which says in regards to the risks or impacts of direct hunting mortality on non-target species "that is a separate question that can only be properly addressed by gathering robust data on the rates of non-target species being killed or injured by hunters. Such data does not exist and would be extremely difficult to gather".
What we do know is that in it's 2017 “Hunter’s Bag Survey Report”, ARI states that less than ten wetlands (out of thousands which allow duck shooting) were checked by authorities for wounded / un-retrieved birds. Just at these few, 18 birds were found including nine dead swans and two dead pelicans.
According to it's 2018 report, only one wetland was checked by authorities for wounded / un-retrieved birds.
In 2019 no searches by authorities for wounded / un-retrieved birds were reported on data sheets and it is believed none occurred in 2020 either, despite millions in additional taxpayer funds.
Blind assumptions and wishful thinking do not equal sustainability.
Despite our numerous requests, the regulator has been unable to advise the whereabouts of a fraction of the thousands of public waterways where duck shooting is allowed, or even to estimate the number of them. How can they hope to monitor them for protected species?
In the Flora and Fauna Guarantee #32, Department of Sustainability and Environment reported "many of the 15,000 wetlands in Victoria are open to duck hunting". (We have sent this to GMA to assist them).
In light of all the above, it is obviously not possible for the regulator, nor any other body, to say that duck shooting is sustainable or not having an adverse affect on precious wildlife populations including threatened species.
If Victoria won't follow the lead of other states in banning recreational bird shooting for animal welfare, social or economic reasons, it should ban it for the risks to our growing numbers of threatened species before there are none left for future generations.
There's a better way for our waterways.
Australian Shelduck and Freckled duck, picture Eleanor Dilley