LOCAL hunters have rejoiced after the state government shot down the duck hunting debate, opting to keep the season in place.

While recreational duck and quail hunting will continue in Victoria, it’s not without its changes, in an effort to keep the sport “safe, sustainable and responsible”.

The state government announced its response to the Parliament’s Inquiry into Victoria’s recreational native bird hunting arrangements on Monday (January 29), confirming its position had not changed, and recreational duck and quail hunting will continue, despite the inquiry’s recommendation of a blanket ban.

The Minister for Outdoor Recreation, Steve Dimopoulos, said duck hunting was integral to regional life.

“Duck hunting is a legitimate activity – but more than that, it supports regional communities and economies,” he said.

“Our position has not changed and we’re supporting recreational duck and quail hunting to continue in a safe, sustainable and responsible way with minimal harm to our environment.”

The state government plans to make changes to hunting laws to reduce the effects on endangered species, including introducing harsher penalties for hunters who break the law.

These changes were made on the basis of the state inquiry’s recommendations and include:

-Improving hunters’ knowledge and skill by making education and training for hunters mandatory;

-Stricter compliance levels, including further penalties for hunters breaking the rules;

-Banning the use of lead shot for quail hunting;

-Implementing the Waterfowl Wounding Reduction Action Plan, to reduce the risk of wounding, and;

-Greater recognition of Traditional Owners’ knowledge of hunting and land management.

Philip Thompson, president of Morwell Field and Game, welcomed the continuation of duck and quail hunting.

“I think it’s a very good thing that it remains – a lot of the members of Morwell Field and Game are duck hunters themselves,” he said.

“We have approximately 300 members, and I’d say probably at least half of them participate (in the sport).”

Every season, three generations of the Thompson family take part in the duck season, using the time as a bonding experience.

“I hunt every season, and for me, it’s time to spend with family – I have two adult children who come and hunt with me, some of their partners come along, and the grandkids come and camp with us,” he said.

Mr Thompson said as a president of the local field and game club and as an avid hunter, he had never seen someone act unlawfully but welcomed harsher penalties for those that did.

“I think that increasing the penalties for people doing the wrong thing is actually a good thing,” he said.

In regard to improving hunter education and decreasing wounding rates, Mr Thompson said most hunters, especially those involved with shooting clubs, are always looking to better their skills.

“We all have to pass a waterfowl identification test to identify game birds and non-game birds, which is a prerequisite to getting a hunting permit – it’s not an easy thing to pass. You really need to study for that,” he said.

“I’m a very active clay target shooter, so I’m practising my proficiency all the time, almost weekly in the off-season, so it’s not like I don’t shoot all year, and then the duck season comes along, and I get out there.”

At Morwell Field and Game training, on Wednesday, January 31, everyone discussed the positive outcome of the duck debate, but the restricted season continued to take a toll on the hunting victory.

The 2024 season will open on April 10 and will close on June 5 with a bag limit of six ducks per day and 8am start times.

Mr Thompson believes the state government attempted to appease all parties by taking the middle road, opting to reform the recreation activity instead of banning it outright.

As a Labor strategist in an ABC report said, “You can’t out-green the Greens”, suggesting a duck hunting ban wouldn’t swing inner city voters.

Many people, including Mr Thompson, suspect the duck hunting vote of confidence is a move to avoid alienating voters ahead of the next election.

The Parliamentary Inquiry into the recreational activity found duck hunting had “acute animal welfare” issues and contributed to the loss of large areas of public land.

The Nationals, especially local Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for Public Land Use and Member for Eastern Victoria Region, Melina Bath, worked hard to pressure the state government against the ban.

The Game Bird Inquiry heard some evidence that habitat, not hunting, was the key to duck populations.

Ms Bath said The Committee Report for Inquiry into Victoria’s Recreational Native Bird Hunting Arrangements was ‘seriously flawed’, and the state government made the correct choice to reject the recommendation to ban duck and quail hunting in Victoria.

“Any ban on duck and quail hunting introduced in Victoria would have been based on emotion and political ideology, not sound science,” she said.

“During the inquiry, the committee heard in evidence that the greatest threat to duck populations is habitat decline, not hunting.

“If hunters continue to revive and care for our wetlands as they have done, then our waterfowl will have habitat to breed and flourish into the future.

“Our law abiding hunters don’t fear regulation – their simple request is the activity is regulated with science, not emotion.”

Ms Bath said while the state government was allowing the hunting of ducks and quail to continue for now, its decision was being met with cautious optimism as the devil was in the detail.

“It’s been a wet year with favourable breeding conditions, duck populations have increased – yet the Allan Labor government has imposed restrictions on the 2024 season outside of the Game Management Authority’s recommendations,” Ms Bath said.

Ms Bath thanked hunting organisations, hunters, and their families for the respectful manner in which they approach the debate and for their ongoing volunteer efforts to restore Victorian wetland habitats.

Since the announcement, animal rights groups have slammed the state government’s decision.

RSPCA Victoria Chief Executive, Dr Liz Walker, questioned how the decision to keep the duck hunting season was safe, sustainable or responsible.

“Devastated doesn’t begin to cover it,” Dr Walker said.

“The government wants to invest $10 million into mandatory training, hoping this will reduce wounding rates, however Denmark, a world leader in wounding reduction, took 20 years to reduce wounding rates, and these rates still sit unacceptably high at around 10 per cent.

“At a minimum, a $10 million investment means spending around $205 per licensed hunter, and considering how few licenced hunters actively participate, the cost blows out to around $524 per hunter.

“During a cost-of-living crisis, there are plenty of struggling Victorians who would rather $524 in their own pocket.”

The Age has reported that taxpayers spend millions to support this “fowl sport”, which, according to game licence statistics, had a 97.9 per cent male participation rate in 2023.

This aligns Victoria’s Game Management policy closer to Tasmania and the Northern Territory, with duck hunting banned in Western Australia, New South Wales, and Queensland and under review in South Australia.