The Ramsar Convention on Wetlands of International Significance is an international treaty that provides for the conservation and ‘wise use’ of wetlands and their resources. Its mission is “the conservation and wise use of all wetlands through local and national actions and international cooperation” and its priority is wetlands that provide significant habitat for waterfowl.
Victoria has 11 Ramsar listed wetlands. One of the criteria for listing is that they should regularly support over 20,000 water fowl and another is that they should be home to over 1% of the national population of at least one water bird species. All the Victorian sites meet both these criteria.
What a contradiction then that duck hunting is allowed at 7 of the Ramsar sites. More than that, four of them have State Game Reserves within their boundaries, and one of them, the Kerang Wetlands, is described in its own management plan as “the most popular duck hunting locality in Victoria”.
The 2013 Victorian duck hunting season opens at sunrise on Saturday 16 March. There are about 25,000 registered duck hunters in Victoria who pay just over $50 each for a licence to take up to 10 birds a day during the season. In 2012 they shot an average of 21 birds each, a grand total of over 500,000 birds. Black Duck, Wood Duck and Grey Teal were the most common species killed, and over half of them were shot on private land.
Victoria has 186 state game reserves. The non-hunting public will be excluded from within 25m of the water’s edge in these reserves and 41 other wetlands every day of the 3 month duck hunting season, from 2 hours before sunset until 10.00am the next day. It will also be an offence for an (unauthorised) member of the public (which means most of us) to come within 10m of a licenced hunter, with the threat of prosecution and a $2800 fine.
16 of the state game reserves are in Ramsar listed wetland sites. A few examples of these game reserves:
- Lake Cullen, one of the Kerang Wetlands, is home to over 1% of the national population of three game species (Hardhead, Pink-eared duck and Grey Teal);
- Lake Albacutya, a Ramsar site in its own right, at times supports 10% of the national population of the endangered Freckled duck;
- Lake Murdeduke, one of the Western lakes, supports 50 waterfowl species and over 1% of the national population of 5 duck species!
These wetlands are not listed for nothing! Hunting is permitted, indeed prioritised, at all these places.
The management plans for the Ramsar sites in Victoria do not assess the impacts of duck hunting on the sites’ values. The only Ramsar sites at which hunting is prohibited are Hattah Lakes and Barmah Forest (which are now entirely within national parks), Edithvale-Seaford (which is in suburban Melbourne) and Westernport Bay (which is a coastal strip utilised by shorebirds).
Shooting ducks for recreation does not contribute to wetland conservation nor is it apparently a ‘wise use’ of these wetlands that support internationally significant numbers of waterfowl. Banning duck hunting at Ramsar listed wetlands would be a major step in their conservation and would also increase their accessibility to non-hunters, the vast majority of Victorians who value and use these wetlands for other reasons. It could also be a first step in phasing out duck hunting in Victoria.