Hunters prove a point
We have had a busy month but it has been an immensely successful start to Duck Season, particularly in Victoria where critical eyes were upon us.
Congratulations to everybody who hunted in Victoria during the opening three weeks.
You have shown everybody that, given the proper framework and enforcement support, we can just get on with successful and sustainable duck hunting.
We worked hard in the lead up to the season to get the new regulations straightened out, and to then deal with wetland closures.
I was disappointed in the closures process.
While Daryl Snowdon and I were involved in the call with the GMA, as was David Laird of SSAA and Birds Australia, I felt that again neither the GMA nor the government listened to our opinion.
I suspect some of the closures were not based purely on protected species limits and closing of The Marshes (when there was little water in it) and Hirds Swamp and Lake Martin just for the opening weekend was bizarre. The closure again of Lake Martin late on the Thursday afternoon before the Easter long weekend, with people already there or travelling there to hunt, felt like Lake Elizabeth two years ago. This is not the way to win hunters support.
I would like to thank Barry Howlett and ADA, and David Laird and SSAA for working closely with us to ensure the right messages were communicated to all our combined memberships. Our combined efforts were noted and even commented on by Minister Jaala Pulford in Parliament:
“I would also take the opportunity to thank the hunting organisations, the Sporting Shooters Association of Australia, Field & Game and the Australian Deer Association, all of whom probably had less than enthusiastic sentiments about the new regulations but played a really important role in conveying to their members the importance of everybody abiding by the old rules and the new rules alike.” Jaala Pulford, Victorian Agriculture Minister Victorian Parliament, March 29, 2018
I spent opening weekend in the Kerang area and had the pleasure of meeting many hunters and FGA members. I was a little disappointed that I didn’t have the time to join the camp with the spit roast at the Southern end of Cullens. Those guys looked like they knew how to camp!
What was immediately evident was the large enforcement presence. There was a roadblock on the highway into Kerang with breath testing and compliance officers talking with hunters, educating them on the new regulations.
I almost needed to make an appointment to visit hunters’ camps as they were being visited multiple times by different enforcement groups. But it was good to see the positive two-way discussions being had between hunters and enforcement officers.
I spent opening morning at Cullens and Lake Elizabeth. I observed absolute compliance with the 9 am start on Saturday, 8 am start on Sunday and the 6.56 am start on Monday (at Hird Swamp). Given the compliance with the different times, it is evident the time is not the issue, it is the education, communication and enforcement efforts that ensured this was done properly. It was also great to see co-operation between the different camps in co-ordinating the times they moved out to the wetland and also in calling out protected species while in flight. I observed all hunters making more than reasonable attempts to collect downed birds.
The miniscule number of mostly game birds dumped by CADS at the Premier’s office a full three weeks after opening was a desperate attempt to grandstand: all it demonstrated was the weakness and fallibility of their argument.
Compared to last year, it shows that hunters can very successfully hunt inside the framework of current regulations when there is proper education, communication and enforcement. Based on the supplied figures (below), this represents 0.13 per cent of the birds harvested over opening weekend. Of the 73 birds collected only 6.85 per cent were non-game species (two coots and one grebe), which means 0.009 per cent of the estimated take were protected species! I was disappointed to hear that these birds will not be tested by the GMA, as has been the case in the past. I would encourage the GMA to undertake testing and publicly report the results to clarify many claims and counter claims as to the source of the birds.
There have been some reports that numbers were down for opening, based on the GMA estimate of 2100 hunters on the 38 wetlands they monitored. This is not the case at all and was misconstrued (or blatantly misrepresented) by some groups as the total number of hunters. If you extrapolated this number across all 20 000 Victorian wetlands, it would represent more than one million hunters — you need to be careful how ‘facts’ are reported.
Official number of hunters supplied by GMA and quoted in Hansard by Minister Pulford:
“With respect to the figure of 2100 hunters, that is the estimated number of hunters where agency staff were present at wetlands across the state over the opening weekend. The total number that were actually hunting comes from our phone survey, which is conducted after the opening weekend and then every two weeks after that. We have some preliminary figures through which I have included below. These all have to be verified by our statisticians and will be included in our harvest report which is finalised later in the year and includes quail. Deer are dealt with in a separate report, given it is a year-long ‘season’. Based on 24 833 licensed duck hunters as of opening weekend.” • Hunted opening weekend: 8964 • Ducks harvested: 56 647 • Saturday harvest: 45 816 • Sunday harvest: 10 831 • Hunting Public land: 61 per cent • Hunting Private land: 39 per cent”
This is a solid opening and shows that hunters continue to have a significant financial impact and benefit in rural areas and can sustainably harvest ducks.
I also think hunters have gotten smarter and decided to avoid the circus with protesters.
I observed protester activity and what I observed was generally well behaved, however, I have been provided with evidence (that has been handed to the authorities) of blatantly dangerous and illegal activity by protesters.
I have discussed this with the government and will continue to lobby for protesters to not be allowed to disrupt the lawful activities of hunters. What concerns me greatly is the overtly aggressive tactic of standing in front of hunters in the water. This is crazy behaviour and it must be regulated or legislated against by the government to avoid unnecessarily dangerous and potentially fatal situations. Protesting should never be allowed to be used as a valid reason to get a firearms or hunting licence and any person doing so should immediately have their firearms and hunting licence revoked. The government cannot possibly support a person who’s main reason for procuring a firearms licence is to protest or undertake illegal activity. Such illegal activity is surely grounds for not being a fit person to have a firearms licence. The government is tacitly arming protesters.
I encourage you all to continue to report increasingly dangerous and illegal behaviour to Vicpol via Crimestoppers. Any information you provide through this avenue helps build an intelligence database against the protesters.
We had Dr Graham Hall visit us for Victorian Opening and undertake the Head and Wing Study for the 10th straight year. He also travelled down to Gippsland for opening. Having not met Dr Hall before, I had a number of fascinating talks with him while he was here and increased my knowledge of game birds substantially. I am interested in starting to develop a research strategy and, no surprise, a blue-wing shoveler study is top of the list. It is critical that any study we fund or undertake is soundly based on scientific principles that are robust and stand up to scrutiny from the academic and scientific community.
We cannot afford to spend money on a study that governments can ignore. There are some key developments coming down the pipeline that will make satellite tracking of birds much easier and cost effective. We are monitoring this and other technologies, such as drone bird counts, very closely.
Enjoy the rest of your duck & quail hunting seasons.