TERRITORY hunters are furious with the NT Government after it more than halved bag limits for the upcoming waterfowl hunting season.
The halving of bag limits also comes with a hunting season that has been reduced by one-third, down from 12 weeks last year to eight weeks this year.
Bag limits will be three magpie geese per day for the season, which will run from October 27 to December 23.
NT Field and Game spokesman Bart Irwin said the new limit "was not worth getting out of bed for”.
The Minister for Environment and Natural Resources, Lauren Moss, said the conditions were set to protect seriously depleted magpie goose numbers.
"The NT's magpie goose population is the lowest on record at 725,000. This is a dramatic 45% reduction on 2016 and only a quarter of the 2012 population,” Ms Moss said.
Dr Alaric Fisher, executive director of flora and fauna division in the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, said action must be taken to sustain the magpie geese population.
"The decrease in magpie geese has been both rapid and alarming,” Dr Fisher said.
"The decline is largely due to a series of wet seasons that have been unfavourable for nesting, either with well below average total rainfall or with long periods with minimal rainfall, especially in 2012-13 and 2015-16.”
According to the Magpie Goose Survey report, there were only about 10,000 nests counted in 2013.
However, this year's survey figures have been contested and the manner in which the government made its announcement has been strongly criticised by hunters.
Mr Irwin took part in the aerial surveys, which are conducted annually to assess goose numbers.
"They do the surveys each year in May and I was on one of them again, as I have been for a number of years, and I saw three times the number of geese in the area I covered as I did last year,” Mr Irwin told Rural Weekly.
"I am also concerned that last year when they told us they were 'so worried' about geese numbers they did a survey of three areas before compiling their results.
"This year they did not conduct a survey in one of the regions, so the survey is only two-thirds complete compared to last year's.
"If the numbers truly are that low, why wouldn't they do the same comprehensive survey as last year?”
How they are surveyed
The Department of Environment and Natural Resources said aerial surveys of magpie geese on Top End floodplains began in 1983 and were the best way of monitoring total bird populations and nesting numbers.
"Arnhem Land was not included in the 2017 surveys but survey data from six years (including 2016) consistently shows that Arnhem Land contains 10-15% the total Top End magpie goose population,” a spokesman said.
"This year's population estimates is based on aerial surveys spanning the majority of magpie goose nesting habitat, between the Moyle River and Murganella Creek floodplain.
"These data were extrapolated to give a total population estimate for the whole Top End of 725,400.
"There has been a very large decline in the population since 2013 and the estimate for 2017 is the lowest since surveys began in 1983.
"It is clear that climatic factors are a major factor in the observed recent decline of the magpie goose populations.”
The department spokesman said while hunting was not a major cause of decline, a reduction in hunting offtake at this critical time would help magpie goose populations recover.
"If future surveys show that the goose population is beginning to recover, an increase in bag limits and season duration will be considered by the minister.”
Criticism of govt response
Mr Irwin said there had been no consultation by the government about the reduced bag limit numbers prior to last week's announcement.
That contradicts Ms Moss' statement at a press conference that stakeholders had been consulted about the decision to limit the season this year.
"Last year it was agreed that the announcement would be made in mid-July each year after scientists had provided the results of their survey by July 1,” Mr Irwin said.
"As time had been moving on, I had contacted the department and the minister's office trying to find out what the results of the survey were and what the decision would be on the season.
"But I received no response and the first thing I knew about it was a couple of days before, when I was asked to attend a meeting on Thursday (August 24).
"At that meeting we were told one hour before the announcement of the season conditions what was happening - and the minister didn't attend. We had no consultation about this decision at all.”
While the survey concluded that geese numbers were low, Mr Irwin said the number of nests found in the survey had increased by a significant amount on last year.
"There were tens of thousands more nests than there were last year,” he said.
That claim is supported by the survey report, which shows nest numbers last year were about 45,000 compared to almost 100,000 this year.
However, the report notes that the 100,000 figure is well below the 2011 figure of almost 300,000 or even the 2014 count of about 140,000.
The new season conditions will also see a reduction in the number of birds allowed to be taken as part of crop protection practices in the Top End. Hunters play a key role in controlling the birds on mango farms, where the birds do untold damage to crops.
Mr Irwin also said the reduced bag limits would have further implications for the Territory.
"There are 2600 registered hunters in the Territory and the industry is worth about $20 million.
"That money pumps through the economy from things such as fuel, food and ammunition purchases.
"Most of the hunters, like me, would spend about $8000 a year, so there will be effects felt in other areas because it's not worth the effort for three birds.”
Mr Irwin stressed that hunters were not taking a short-term view of the magpie geese numbers.
"We are the ultimate conservationists. There is no benefit to us hunting birds to the point where there will not be enough to hunt again the next year.
"What we do is done so that the numbers remain sustainable ... otherwise we won't be able to enjoy hunting again the next year. It's that simple.”
All non-Aboriginal waterfowl hunters are required to obtain a waterfowl hunting permit prior to hunting. Aboriginal Territorians will not be affected by these changes.
Not having a permit may result in legal action being taken.
Permits will only be issued from the Parks and Wildlife Commission Permits Office at Jape Homemaker Village, Millner, on weekdays from 8am to 4pm, or online at www.nt.gov.au/leisure/hunting-and-shooting.
Phone the permits office on 8999 4486.
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