Late on Tuesday March 15, 2022, the day before the opening of the Victorian recreational duck shooting season, CADS commenced legal action for an injunction to ban duck shooting under the federal environmental law.
This application included a claim for an urgent injunction to stop the 2022 90-day season, based on the Victorian Government’s failure to obtain prior Commonwealth approval under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act (EPBC Act).
CADS challenged the Game Management Authority (GMA) for failing to refer the season for approval, and failing to undertake the appropriate surveys to determine the presence of any nationally threatened or migratory species on wetlands across Victoria.
During the hearing, the GMA’s barrister argued that the GMA was not responsible and only advised the Victorian Ministers for Agriculture and the Environment on duck shooting seasons. The judge ruled in favour of the GMA, and the season opened the next day with volunteer rescuers at Lake Bael Bael, a Ramsar wetland, recovering illegally shot, wounded and dead species that are threatened in Victoria.
We therefore mounted a second challenge, this time against both the Agriculture and Environment Ministers, as well as the GMA as the alleged regulatory body. The evidence included the illegal shooting at Lake Bael Bael, and the latest expert science showing that duck shooting is unsustainable and has serious environmental impacts on nationally protected species and Ramsar wetlands.
The same judge agreed to the application, but again denied the claim for an urgent injunction. However, following the initial hearing, CADS obtained legal advice from an experienced Federal Court barrister that the Victorian Government has indeed failed to obtain approval from the Commonwealth Environment Minister for duck shooting under the EPBC Act.
According to this advice, CADS has established a legal pathway to ban duck shooting under the EPBC Act, so unless it is banned first, we intend to return to court for the full hearing for an injunction next year, ahead of any 2023 season.
Reports from around Victoria during the recreational duck shooting season again confirmed the trend of ever diminishing active shooters in 2022. Duck shooting is a dying activity.
The announcement of the duck shooting season had been based on the Game Management Authority’s (GMA)helicopter survey of waterbird numbers in Victoria conducted a staggering five months before the seasoncommenced. Contrary to the helicopter survey, our bird number counts just prior to the commencement of theseason showed that many wetlands were dry and wetlands which still held water had very few birds. Lake Bael Bael,a Ramsar wetland of International importance near Kerang, was the exception. Many thousands of so-called ‘game’species had gathered there so we knew it would act as a magnet for the shooters.
Sure enough, organised shooting groups and their hierarchy turned up for the opening, but could only musteraround 40 shooters, a huge drop from the many thousands which attended in bygone years. They even had some members picking up the dead or wounded birds illegally discarded by shooters to prevent our rescuers fromrecovering the evidence.
The opening days were spread out from Wednesday March 16 to Sunday March 20, which gave the shooters anextra three days added to the normal duck shooting period.
Although Covid restrictions had been lifted, the pandemic had a big impact on rescuer numbers this year and we alsoonly had two weeks to prepare for the season after the government’s announcement.
But despite a greatly reduced rescue team, our impact on the first day was immense, with the authorities grossly over-estimating the numbers of rescuers. Many birds were saved from the guns because of the rescuers’ actions.
WILDLIFE VICTORIA AND THREATENED/PROTECTED SPECIES
Wildlife Victoria was in attendance with their CEO, vet, mobile clinic and portable x-ray machine.
Even with the shooting organisations present to monitor the behaviour of their members, a threatened Blue-wingedShoveler was shot and wounded within the first hour. She was rushed to the mobile veterinary clinic where unfortunately she had to be put down. View footage here.
When the guns sounded at Lake Bael Bael, thousands of birds took fright and circled the wetland in terror. Thisincluded hundreds of swans. Sadly, many abandoned their flightless cygnets or eggs but some cygnets wererescued and after veterinary check-upswere taken to wildlife carers.
Wildlife Victoria can now x-ray all birds recovered by rescuers using their mobile x-ray machine pictured here.
DEAD BIRD DISPLAY
Despite the shooting organisations’attempts to keep their members under control, rescuers recovered fifty illegallyshot birds which were displayed outside the Kerang Agriculture Department on the Monday (photo below). This didnot include the birds taken away by GMA officers or afurther 23 ‘game birds’ found illegally buriedat Lake Murphy, another wetland near Kerang.
AFTER THE OPENING
The rest of the 2022 season was extremely quiet with reports of minimal shooting around Victoria. Rescuers protected the native birds on Lake Bael Bael for the whole of the duck shooting season. Very few birds were shot and the shooters often packed up and left the wetland due to the rescuers’ presence.
During Easter, shooters arrived at Lake Bael Bael with an amphibious vehicle allegedly to flush the large numbers of birds in the middle of the wetland, up into the air and towards the shooters’ guns. Rescuers contacted the authorities who stopped the shooters from using the vehicle.