Duck season proceeds despite concerns and community opposition

RSPCA Victoria is disappointed the Victorian Government has announced a 2021 duck hunting season and is urging it to review its decision due to animal welfare concerns, declining waterbird abundance, and a lack of support within the community.

The shortened season will run for 20 days starting Wednesday, 26 May 2021, with a bag limit of two ducks per day. Out of the eight game species in Victoria, the Grey Teal and Chestnut Teal have restricted hunting areas, while the Blue-winged Shoveler cannot be hunted at all this season.

The announcement of a modified season comes after RSPCA Victoria and other organisations recommended the season be cancelled. Duck hunting is banned in all Australian states and territories except South Australia, Tasmania, the Northern Territory and Victoria, and the Victorian Labor Party passed a motion to review its policy on duck hunting at its 2019 state conference.

RSPCA Australia is opposed to the recreational hunting of any animal for sport due to the inherent and unnecessary injury, pain, suffering, distress or death to the animals involved.

RSPCA Victoria’s CEO, Dr Liz Walker, says there are multiple, evidence-based reasons why the 2021 season should not proceed, including concerns around cruelty including duck wounding rates and declines in waterbird populations.

“Duck hunting results in a substantial number of ducks being wounded, with some surviving, whilst others will suffer before eventually dying. Australian studies show approximately 26% of birds shot with a shotgun will be wounded or maimed. The likely outcome for wounded, maimed or crippled birds is a slow and painful death.

“Comparing this wounding rate of 26% with the reported total harvest figure of 238,666 from the 2019 season (as the 2020 season was impacted by COVID-19), we estimate that over 62,000 ducks were wounded and not killed outright in the 2019 season. This amount of wounding is unacceptably high and cannot be tolerated,” said Dr Walker.

Of further concern, survey findings from the GMA’s Summary report of hunters’ knowledge show that only 37% of duck hunters could answer questions correctly that related to minimising wounding. Further to this 87% were not able to correctly answer how to dispatch downed ducks.

RSPCA Victoria continues to be concerned by the data provided in the Aerial Survey of Wetland Birds in Eastern Australia each year, showing long-term significant declines in the breeding index, total abundance and wetland area index.

Breeding abundance and breeding species richness has decreased considerably in 2020 when compared with the previous year, with only three species recorded breeding – the sixth lowest on record and black swans, which are not a game species, comprised 81% of all records. This indicates that the majority of game species aren’t breeding which contributes to long term decline.

All game species abundance was well below long term averages, with 5 out of 8 game species showing significant long-term declines. Four of the five species that together made up 92% of game species harvested in 2020; the Pacific Black Duck, Australian Wood Duck, Grey Teal and Mountain Duck continue to show long term declines in their abundance. Decreased breeding species richness and long term declines in abundance illustrate an alarming trajectory for future duck populations and raises significant concern around their sustainability.

While the amount of available habitat has slightly improved from 2019 (which was the lowest on record), this has not resulted in an increase in waterbird abundance, breeding or breeding species richness. While some main water storage levels, such as the Murray River Basin, have experienced an increase in 2020, this is not sufficient to promote sustainable waterbird populations. Additionally, southern parts of Australia are entering into their drier season so summer rainfall will not relieve long-term rainfall deficits.

“We acknowledge that duck hunting is currently lawful, so while it continues, RSPCA Victoria strongly recommends implementing interventions to reduce the wounding rate, improve hunter education on issues such as humanely dispatching downed ducks, making the Shotgunning Education Program mandatory and the introduction of an annual waterfowl identification test to reduce the negative welfare impacts for ducks and off-target species,” said Dr Walker.

“We are disappointed that our recommendation to cancel the 2021 duck hunting season was not heeded. Another season will cause unnecessary injury, pain, suffering and death for hundreds of thousands of birds and contribute to the ongoing decline of our waterbird population.”

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