Bag counts tipped to rise: New regulation practices will likely result in more duck deaths, experts say. Photo: Craig Sillitoe
Duck season may have been abolished in NSW, but almost 200,000 native ducks were killed by hunters in the state in the past five years.
Figures obtained from the Environment Department showed 199,920 ducks were shot on more than 1500 private properties under the guise of pest eradication to protect rice crops.
Greens MP David Shoebridge said the data showed ‘‘industrial-scale killing of native birds’’.
Duck killing justified as 'pest removal': Duck season begins on the Murray River. Photo: Craig Sillitoe
“The ducks are being killed by amateur hunters, many of them driving up from Melbourne for weekend hunting trips, who are focused on sport rather than protecting rice crops,’’ he said.
This month, responsibility for duck hunting has transferred from the Environment Department to the Department of Primary Industries, under a deal struck by the O’Farrell government with the Shooters and Fishers Party.
Mr Shoebridge said more ducks would be killed as a result.
‘‘It's like the fox guarding the chickens,’’ said animal activist Lindy Stacker.
Before duck season was banned by the Carr Labor government in 1995, Ms Stacker organised veterinarians and volunteers to rescue maimed ducks, and collect carcasses to deposit on Parliament steps in protest.
‘‘They shot at pelicans, their own dogs were shot," she recalled. "They shot at fish in the water.’’
She was concerned the shift to hunting on private land had removed the scrutiny of hunters, and maimed birds were being left to die in pain.
A spokeswoman for the Department of Primary Industries said the new system would likely see the recorded number of dead ducks rise, as hunters would be encouraged to collect birds.
‘‘Due to more stringent reporting requirements ... there may be a perceived increase in the number of native game birds harvested,’’ she said.
Some of the ducks being killed didn’t even eat rice, said Ms Stacker. Sixty-five pink-eared ducks had been shot, but they ate only plankton and insects.
The director of the University of NSW’s Centre for Ecosystem Science Richard Kingsford questioned the effectiveness of shooting ducks and said more effort should be put into finding alternative methods of protecting rice crops.
‘‘The shooting is so patchy," he said. "Shooting ducks on rice at night raises issues of identification.’’
Professor Kingsford said it was unfortunate ducks were more likely to be attracted to rice during droughts when their natural habitat had dried up, and the fields presented ‘‘a magnet of food and water’’.
‘‘The issue will continue to grow as we take away natural habitat and regulate waterways.’’
The department spokeswoman said annual cull quotas for properties were based on scientific information about bird populations, rainfall and climate predictions.
‘‘When you are in Bali, there are ducks all over the rice and they don’t shoot them,’’ said Ms Stacker.