Duck hunting has 'tiny' effect on populations

·2-min read
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Duck hunting has a tiny effect on waterbird populations compared with the major threats of climate change and habitat destruction according to scientists.

University of NSW conservation biologist Richard Kingsford has studied duck numbers for decades.

In 2017 he analysed how waterbird populations in the Murray-Darling Basin have changed over 30 years.

Professor Kingsford found a more than 70 per cent decline in waterbird abundance and blamed habitat loss as the major reason behind the drop.

Agricultural practices in the Murray-Darling were a huge contributor as they had a significant effect on conditions downstream, influencing waterbird numbers.

"The fundamental issue here is that we have been losing wetland habitat over decades as a result of increasing extractions and regulation of the river to the Murray-Darling," Prof Kingsford told a Victorian parliamentary inquiry into duck hunting on Friday.

"We see that in the impacts on freshwater organisms that rely on those flows.

"At the same time, we also investigated whether there was any effect of hunting on those species and we found a very small effect which was considerably overridden by the loss of habitat."

Dams and water extraction from rivers were by far the biggest drivers of waterbirds' historical decline, Prof Kingsford said.

Climate change was also a threat, drying out river systems, exacerbating the scarcity of water and resulting in less future flooding, he said.

His conclusions were reinforced by Deakin University ecology chair Marcel Klaassen.

"Of course, when you hunt animals, it has an impact on the population - numbers go down," Prof Klaassen said.

"It doesn't really put a dent in the population."

Melbourne ecologist and animal rights activist Holly Sitters said it was important to remove all threats.

"Given all of the unknowns that we are faced with and the truly unprecedented times that we are in, we are in the midst of a climate crisis and an extinction crisis," Dr Sitters said.

"The precautionary principle means removing threats wherever we possibly can, so ending the hunting of native birds."

Prof Kingsford and Prof Klaassen created a model to advise the government in its decision making about duck hunting seasons.

The model generally recommends against shortening hunting seasons.

Think tank The Australia Institute pushed for an end to native bird shooting during the inquiry into Victoria's recreational native bird hunting arrangements.

The institute's research director Rod Campbell rejected data from RM Consulting Group, which said the economic contribution of recreational duck hunting in 2019 was $65 million gross.

Mr Campbell said hunters surveyed were told the results would help hunting advocacy and most participants were active hunters. 

"When a survey is being promoted like that, it gives to a particular part of the sample population every incentive to provide exaggerated results," he said.

The institute argued ending native bird shooting would have a minimal if not positive impact on Victoria's economy, with only 0.17 per cent of Victoria's population active duck hunters in 2022.