Vic duck season rules eased over new data

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Victoria's game hunting regulator has loosened duck season restrictions after a new aerial survey found the state's population was "much higher" than estimated.

The Game Management Authority on Wednesday increased daily bag limits from two to five and removed geographic shooting bans on teal species for the 2021 duck season.

But the duck shooting season length remains the same, running for 20 days from May 26 to June 14.

It says the changes were prompted by a pilot aerial survey from November 2020 that found Victoria's estimated game duck population was almost 2.5 million.

"This number is much higher than previous methodologies have indicated and means that the sustainable harvest level can be increased," the GMA said.

To reach the estimate, wildlife consultants counted the number of game ducks in over 650 water bodies from a helicopter and used satellite imagery to assess the amount of water in the landscape.

Victoria has relied on the Eastern Australian Waterbird Survey for nearly 40 years to set season arrangements, but the GMA noted it "only estimates from a proportion of the total population".

That survey of wetland birds across eastern Australia found numbers declined to 162,824 in 2020, the sixth-lowest figure in 38 years.

RSPCA Victoria said the annual survey offered the most valuable, long-term objective data on the abundance of waterbirds, and bemoaned the decision to override heavier restrictions.

"We are very concerned that data from a trial pilot survey has been used to make changes to restrictions imposed on this year's season," chief executive Dr Liz Walker said.

"Particularly considering the pilot's own report outlines several recommendations for changes, modifications, and improvements to the survey's methodology.

"The need for these modifications suggests that the survey data is not as rigorous as it could be."

Animal Justice Party MP Andy Meddick said duck numbers remained in long-term decline, challenging Agriculture Minister Mary-Anne Thomas to join rescue teams this year.

"This decision is not only cruel, it is unscientific and flies in the face of what the majority of Victorians actually want - a ban on duck shooting," he said.

Samantha Ratnam, leader of the Victorian Greens, echoed that call and accused the state government of caving to pressure from the shooting lobby.

But Victorian Nationals leader Peter Walsh is demanding Ms Thomas immediately open the season, noting it is legislated to run for up to 12 weeks.

"Today's embarrassing - and long overdue - backflip ... only confirms what hunters already knew - the Andrews Labor government got it wrong," Mr Walsh said.

Shooters, Fishers and Farmers Party MP Jeff Bourman said the changes showed the government should release all documentation used for decisions about the season.

"(It) proves all along that the season should have been a full season with a full bag," the upper house member said.

Duck hunting is also allowed in South Australia, Tasmania and the Northern Territory.