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SSAA Victoria Reacts to 2021 Duck Season Announcement

SSAA Victoria Reacts to 2021 Duck Season Announcement

SSAA Victoria is extremely disappointed with the 2021 duck season arrangements that were announced on Saturday and cannot understand how such a decision has been made, given the season conditions and outlook. The Association has sought a detailed explanation from the GMA so that it might understand on what basis the arrangements were decided.

The Association acts in good faith in its dealings with GMA and government on all matters. As a key hunting stakeholder, the Association has worked within the system to represent members’ interests on duck hunting matters and to provide a positive contribution to the decision-making process.

For some time, the Association has held significant concerns around the process in place for the determination of duck season. It has made repeated constructive suggestions on how the process can be improved. Those suggestions have not been acted upon and it has become clear that the process is fundamentally flawed. It is not capable of delivering transparent outcomes that the Association can have any confidence in. Given the current seasonal conditions in all of eastern Australia, a process that leads to a 20-day season and a two-bird daily limit is clearly defective.

SSAA Victoria remains committed to genuine consultation. It remains committed to the introduction of Adaptive Harvest Management (AHM) and true science-based game management. However, it is not interested in being involved in box-ticking, bogus exercises. Unfortunately, it has become obvious that the necessary change to ensure genuine consultation has not eventuated and is unlikely to occur while the Association continues to engage with the process in its current form. The Association will not be engaging with GMA in the lead up to next year’s season unless there is fundamental improvement.

To be fair, the new Minister is still finding her feet in the role and the Association looks forward to developing a positive working relationship with her. The previous Agriculture Minister, Jaclyn Symes, delivered a number of positive outcomes for hunters. Representatives of the Association will be meeting with Minister Thomas to discuss the concerns held by the Association about the process, the introduction of  AHM and other hunting issues such as SHAP and the Deer Control Strategy. We will be seeking her public assurance that the farce of a season for 2021 does not indicate that the Victorian Government’s stated position in support of duck hunting has changed.

The season arrangements accepted by the Minister were the arrangements recommended to her by GMA. It is GMA that needs to take responsibility for explaining its rationale for the recommendations.

The attached table (click here to view) shows the season arrangements going back to 1995. It makes for interesting, though troubling, reading. Going through the seasons over the last 25 years, it can be seen that there have been numerous modified seasons. In most cases the modifications have been different from year to year, yet there is no detailed rationale for what the modifications were attempting to achieve. There is also no analysis as to whether they achieved their objectives.

GMA should be able to declare what the specific intended outcomes of restrictions, in any year, are. Merely stating ‘sustainability’ as the reason for modifications is not good enough. There should be a detailed analysis at the end of the season to determine what impact the modifications have had. They should be from the perspectives of the sustainability of duck populations, social ramifications and economic repercussions. What needs to be answered is: Have the desired outcomes been achieved? At what cost? Would fewer or less restrictive modifications have achieved the desired outcomes at lower cost?

Hunters want to ensure that our duck populations provide a sustainable resource in perpetuity. It might be a vested interest, but it is real interest, and hunters are the major stakeholder in this matter. They want to see sustainable duck populations and if modifications are necessary, hunters are prepared to support them. However, there needs to be clear evidence and transparency around the process. It is not acceptable for GMA, as regulator, to veil decisions behind ‘sustainability’ motherhood statements.

Every year, GMA asks stakeholders to supply evidence to back up their claims and positions. Where is the GMA evidence? Where is the analysis from previous modified seasons? Why isn’t it up-front about its intentions prior to the duck season considerations meeting? It is the Association’s view that there should be a standard season, as per the Game Regulations, without need for discussion or considerations, unless truly exceptional circumstances exist. What constitutes ‘exceptional circumstances’ needs to be defined, as do the guidelines which trigger any review.

If exceptional circumstances arise, GMA should announce its draft recommendations  and provide the justification for those recommendations, prior to the consultation process. It should then consider submissions on the draft recommendations before finalising and providing them to the Minister. To give stakeholders confidence, the process needs to be transparent as to what the recommendations are, and why they have been made.

GMA would argue that duck populations have remained sustainable because of the ad hoc restrictions and modifications to the seasons instigated over the years. It could be counter-argued that the variable restrictions and lack of analysis demonstrate restrictions are largely irrelevant to achieving sustainability. What is beyond argument is that restrictions limit hunter participation.

As well as being a kick in the guts to law-abiding and ethical duck hunters, the current duck season announcement is a huge blow to Victoria’s regional economy. Bushfires and COVID-19 impacts have devastated regional economies, where duck hunters typically spend tens of millions of dollars. Duck hunters are Eco-tourists! The State Government’s own economic studies clearly show the impact that reduced seasons have on this spend. In an unmodified season in 2013 duck hunters contributed a Gross State Product of $106.3 million. A significantly modified season in 2019, with minimal difference in hunter numbers, contributed $65 million. A 20-day season, with a two-bird-per-day bag limit and no teal north of the Princes Highway, will see that figure plummet further, just when regional areas really need a boost.

What is GMA thinking? Rather than deter hunters from participating in duck season, the GMA should encourage more hunters to participate.

SSAA Victoria wants hunters to participate in the season and enjoy their cultural traditions but understands, with the heavy restrictions, many hunters will decide the cost and effort is not warranted. Travelling from Melbourne just won’t be worth it for many this year. Two birds do not provide enough meat for a family meal. It is certainly going to be hard for people from Melbourne to justify the time and cost of travelling to regional areas. It is expected that hunters will choose to hunt closer to home and keep their money in their pockets.

As well as writing to your local MPs and the relevant Ministers expressing your support for duck hunting, it is suggested that you write to the MP in the area where you would have hunted. Politely tell them that you won’t be visiting, won’t be spending your dollars in their electorate and why that is.

SSAA Victoria will write to GMA outlining its concerns and requesting clarification on the matters raised. It will also seek a commitment from the Agriculture Minister to deliver much-needed improvements to the season setting arrangements for the 2022 season.