The Kerang wetlands are listed under the Ramsar treaty as Wetlands of
International Importance. Victoria and its rural regions should capitalise
on its wonderful wetland assets, as it does with the penguins at Phillip
Island and Southern Right whales at Warrnambool. Tourism related to Penguins
brings in about $150 million each year to Phillip Island. The whales
visiting Warrnambool, between June and October, bring in about $20 million
In the same way, Victorian country towns should be reaping the economic,
social and environmental benefits of International Wetlands Tourism.
Regions like Kerang and nearby Boort and Donald, as well as Gippsland and Geelong,
have many diverse wetlands, over 150 species of native waterbirds, and some
significant Indigenous heritage sites. Facilities and services that could be
developed include boardwalks, hides and telescopes, visitors centres, cafes and
guided tours employing local residents. It would also provide a wonderful
employment opportunity for local Koori communities to become tour guides.
The Age Editorial - 2003
Drought has a bright side for ducks
Sunday Age Editorial
12 January 2003
Wetlands will be quiet on the third Saturday of March, usually the
opening day of the duck-shooting season. The peace should be permanent.
This year, at least, wild ducks will be spared the obscene slaughter that
a dwindling band of shooters calls sport. In cancelling the 2003 duck season,
acting Premier John Thwaites said six years of drought had greatly depleted
the duck populations of South-Eastern Australia and many birds had migrated
to wetlands in southern Victoria. Most of the region's breeding stocks were
concentrated on relatively few wetlands, making them particularly vulnerable
to hunting. The cancellation follows a similar decision in South Australia,
but the Victorian Government should have gone further and foreshadowed a
permanent ban, on the grounds of cruelty and environmental harm. Last month,
the government's animal welfare advisory committee recommended that duck
shooting be phased out.
Shooter groups have objected to the cancellation. They may have a valid
complaint about not being consulted, but their other arguments look
increasingly tenuous. Field and Game Australia chief executive officer
Rod Drew said last week that shooters did not accept the minister's
scientific advice and, based on duck counts in the state, believed the
season was sustainable. Sporting Shooters Association Victorian president
Sebastian Ziccone said ducks were in "plague proportions" in the state's
south and there was no cruelty concern. The organisations seem oblivious
to the facts of duck migration and the number wounded each season.
In addition to the eight permitted target species, endangered species
remain at risk even though licensed shooters must pass the "waterfowl
identification test" introduced in 1990. Three years later, half the
freckled ducks known to be in the state at the time were shot. The
freckled duck is one of the world's rarest waterfowl. Total duck numbers
have halved since 1999, on top of a long-term decline driven mostly by
habitat degradation and loss, not hunting, which, nonetheless, makes
opulations more vulnerable.
As for cruelty, the sheer weight of evidence from both direct observation
and scientific analysis leaves no room for doubt that this is a prime
concern. Shotgun dispersal patterns mean there is no such thing as the
clean shot that hunters of most other game take pride in. (Hunters can
play an important role by humanely culling feral species such as deer,
goats, foxes and rabbits.) Research indicates shooters wound one duck
(many of which succeed in flying off) for every duck they retrieve.
Long-term studies, involving the capture of tens of thousands of waterfowl,
found shot lodged in the flesh of 6 to 17 per cent of the birds (the figure
increased with body size). These were survivors of previous shootings;
wounding, shock and lead poisoning would have killed many others over
days or weeks. Though a ban on lead shot was announced in 1992, opposition
from shooters resulted in the phase-out being extended to 2004, even as
wetlands have been polluted with an estimated 200 tonnes of lead each year.
Waterbirds that ingest shot, mistaking it for grit, can take weeks to die.
Lead also poisons other wildlife and contaminates ecosystems for decades.
Western Australia banned recreational duck shooting in 1990 and New South
Wales followed suit in 1995. Even in Europe, where hunting traditions
stretch back centuries, public opinion has turned against shooters who,
in defiance of European Union conservation measures, insist on their
right to hunt migrating birds in landscapes emptied of wildlife. France
has about 1.5 million hunters, but nearly two-thirds of its public
opposes hunting. Fox hunting, one of England's defining traditions,
is on the way out. And so is duck shooting in Australia.
Victoria is the country's last bastion of duck shooting, with about 85
per cent of licensed shooters, but they are a rapidly shrinking, literally
noisy, minority. In 1986, Victoria had about 95,000 duck shooters; today
the state licenses about 20,000 and only a few thousand were active last
season. As their numbers dwindle, so does the significance of their financial
contribution to shooting retailers and rural towns. In the past, shooters
have done much to protect areas for duck breeding, but this was offset by
the damage done each season to sensitive wetlands and the diverse wildlife,
not only ducks, that inhabit them. After decades of debate, the public,
conservation groups and the RSPCA support a permanent ban, which also was
Labor Party policy. A decade ago, The Age argued that an end to duck
shooting should be the first step in a wider campaign to discourage the
use of guns. Instead, public opinion brought about a ban on semi-automatic
guns, which became a factor in the rapid decline in duck shooting. We did
not expect to have to restate the case for a ban in the 21st century,
but it appears we do. Mr Thwaites, who bears prime responsibility as
Environment Minister, said the cancellation was based on scientific
evidence and it was "not a question of a permanent ban". Based on the
evidence, the question he must answer is, why not?
Sunday Age Editorial
12 January 2003