2017 Articles

2017 Koorangie Marshes massacre

Shooting lobby calls on Victorian government to penalise duck hunters who act illegally

Thursday 30 March 2017Calla Wahlquist

Calla Wahlquist

Calla is a reporter for Guardian Australia.

The shooting lobby has called on the Victorian government to increase efforts to catch and penalise duck hunters who act illegally after footage of a pit containing almost 200 dead ducks was released by animal rights activists.
The video was filmed by a volunteer for the Coalition Against Duck Shooting on 19 March, a day after the Victorian duck season opened, and released by the ABC’s 7.30 program on Wednesday.
It showed one of the coalition’s volunteers, Luke Milroy, turning up dead ducks by the shovelful from two pits at the Korrangie state game reserve near the Murray River, about 300km north-west of Melbourne.
It comes after the Game Management Authority (GMA) issued a statement condemning the illegal and unethical actions of some shooters on opening weekend, a statement that did not include reference to the buried ducks.
The Victorian branch of the Sporting Shooters Association Australia (SSAA) and Field and Game Australia both issued statements condemning illegal and unethical shooting, saying the “actions of a few” put the whole sport in jeopardy.
SSAA Victoria development manager, David Laird, said on Thursday they had not received official notice from the GMA of the piles of dead ducks allegedly buried by illegal hunters, but that “any illegal activity in relation to hunting is distressing for the association and its members, who have worked very hard to secure the future of their sport over many years”.
“Having said that, more than 2,000 duck hunters were in the Kerang area on opening morning, and thousands more were hunting across the state, so we need to put this into perspective,” Laird said, adding that the vast majority of duck hunters were “decent, honest, responsible and law-abiding people”.
Laird said duck hunters would support the GMA putting more effort and resources into enforcing existing hunting legislation, and suggested that effort had instead gone toward those who oppose duck hunting.
“Information to hand indicates that the most of GMA’s enforcement effort on the opening weekend went towards dealing with protesters,” he said. “Charging the small number of hunters acting illegally and confiscating their firearms on the spot would have a much greater and more immediate effect on protecting non-game species than all the protestors’ antics.”
Coalition Against Duck Shooting founder Laurie Levy said Milroy found the pit while looking for shot and injured ducks in the reserve, which includes Lake Bael and an area collectively known as the Marshes, on the Sunday of opening weekend.
All of the 198 birds in the pit were game species, that is, birds which are legally able to be shot by someone who holds a game shooter’s license, and none of them had been “breasted” or had the meat removed.
The video shows Milroy and another volunteer sorting through the pile, listing off the species they found.
“They’re all whole,” he said. “Pinky (pink-eared duck), teal (a grey or chestnut teal), teal, hardhead, teal, hardhead, wood duck, teal. Another wood duck, whole.”
Duck rescuers, as they are called by animal rights groups, or protesters, as they are called by duck shooters, spent opening weekend filming shooters at popular game reserves across Australia to monitor whether they exceeded their catch and to collect dead or injured birds left behind by hunters.
They said they had never before found them buried in such numbers.
“This is a travesty … it’s one of the worst things I’ve ever seen in 21 years of duck rescue,” Milroy said on the video, released to Guardian Australia by Animals Australia. “This is a waste. The whole idea that they hunt for food is a complete and utter joke. It’s all about fun.”
A spokesman for GMA said its enforcement officers were focused on enforcing hunting laws and “protecting public safety by ensuring protestors didn’t obstruct legal hunting or put themselves in harm’s way”. They said the majority of hunters and protesters were on the other side of the wetlands to where the pits were found, and suggested they were dug later.
“GMA officers did not miss this on the weekend as we understand the pits weren’t there at the time,” he said. “We have reliable information that two hunters collected these ducks from the shoreline and water, along with other rubbish on the Monday and buried them in order to clean up the camp site.” The GMA is reviewing the footage.
Hunters are allowed to collect a maximum of 10 birds per hunter per day for every day of the 12 week season, a significant increase from the restricted bag limits imposed in the 2016 duck hunting season.
Compliance officers from the GMA conduct random searches to catch hunters exceeding their bag limit, and were present alongside police officers at the Korrangie game reserve for opening weekend.
Levy said the presence of GMA officers did not deter hunters from acting illegally. “I was standing beside police officers and the GMA top brass and the gunshots were ringing out,” he said. “It was like a warzone for the first 20 minutes, and that was before the opening of the duck season. They (police and GMA officers) heard it, they were embarrassed, and they knew there was nothing they could do about it.”
Levy said he waded into the marsh to retrieve an injured duck a short time later and received a $930 fine for being in the water without a permit before 10am.
GMA issued 43 infringement notices to hunters on opening weekend, including seven for failing to have a valid gun licence, four for failing to retain a wing on a duck (for identification purposes) and one for shooting early.
They also issued 15 infringements to hunters who left campfires unattended, three for littering and one for failing to comply with the Firearms Act.
One hunter is being investigated for illegally taking a protected species.
GMA issued a press release last week in response to the actions of hunters at First Marsh in Korrangie, who it said had begun shooting early, failed to correctly identify their target and failed to pick up spent cartridges.
“Birds were left in the water, including significant numbers of protected species such as threatened Freckled and Blue-billed ducks,” the GMA chief executive, Greg Hyams, said. “Several hunters also commenced shooting half an hour before the season opened.”
Haymes said hunters were also “taking excessively long shots” that left birds wounded rather than killed, adding “some made no attempt to recover downed birds and kept shooting”.
“There is no excuse for not knowing the law, or for hunting in unethical, unsustainable and inhumane ways,” he said.
The Korrangie game reserve has since been closed to hunting, which the GMA said was due to the presence of significant numbers of threatened duck species and not illegal hunting activities. “It’s too late, the ducks are already dead,” said Levy.
He said volunteers collected more than 1,200 waterbirds that had been shot and left behind by hunters over opening weekend and displayed them outside the offices of the premier, Daniel Andrews, and the agriculture minister, Jaala Pulford.
In a statement on Thursday, a spokesman for Pulford said there was “no excuse for not knowing the law, or for hunting in unethical, unsustainable and inhumane ways”.
“We respect the fact that many people have deeply held and divergent views about duck hunting,” he said. “However, the government recognises that hunting is a legitimate recreational activity, provided the rules are followed.”
Both Animals Australia chief executive Glenys Oogjes and Levy have called for the Victorian government to introduce mandatory target shooting accuracy tests and a yearly waterfowl identification test to reduce the number of birds left injured or dying. Currently hunters are required to pass a waterfowl identification test once to get their licence, but their shooting accuracy is never tested.
Read the original article here: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/mar/30/shooting-lobby-calls-on-victorian-government-to-penalise-duck-hunters-who-act-illegally