The Mallard Duck – at crisis point?

“For 24-years my dogs and I have spent every day in the wetland – exercising, checking predator traps, planting (over 15,000 trees), creating wetlands, enhancing wetlands, predator control, and so on, and we have never found any species of waterfowl that was dying from ingesting lead shot, but we have found large numbers of mallards suffering from the steel shot syndrome – still alive, but with broken wings, broken legs, large amounts of steel shot under the skin and in the breast meat.” – Neil Hayes

The Mallard duck population in New Zealand appears to be at crisis point, especially in the North Island, as number plummet. Similar issues apply to other game birds in the Wairarapa and elsewhere.  Well-known Wairarapa conservationist and hunter Neil Hayes believes Mallards are on the verge of extinction in the North Island

He sees the issues surrounding the plight of the Mallard duck as being part of a bigger problem that ranges from the replacement of lead shot with steel in guns to the structure of Fish & Game. The following article “DOES THE NZ FISH & GAME COUNCIL HAVE A FUTURE?” was written by Hayes to stimulate debate. Wairarapa re-Views neither supports or argues the opinions in this article. But it does recognise that there are important issues involved that it would be useful for more people to be aware of.

DOES THE NZ FISH & GAME COUNCIL HAVE A FUTURE?

Neil Hayes QSM CEnv PhD FRSA FIED FNZIM MCGI

2014

INTRODUCTION

In this brief article, and in association with hundreds of dedicated game bird hunters, we point out the numerous counter-productive blunders made by the NZ Fish & Game Council since inception and ask serious questions as to whether the current structure of the NZ Fish & Game Council can survive with its continual major errors of judgement. We detail these management errors and the reasons why we see little future for the NZ Fish & Game Council and its regional councils.

THE FISH & GAME COUNCIL STRUCTURE

The NZ Fish & Game Council structure was founded in 1987 in unison with Dept of Conservation. The Council replaced the NZ Acclimatisation Societies which had been in existence since 1861. And the Dept of Conservation replaced the highly respected New Zealand Wildlife Service – founded in 1947 as the Wildlife Branch.

At their peak there were 28 Acclimatisation Societies and many were involved in introducing and establishing – mallard, black swan, pheasant, partridge, chukor and Canada geese; together with the introduction of other bird species that did not establish.

A number of societies had their own game farms, with the Southland Society playing a major role in establishing the mallard – by breeding large numbers in captivity. Sadly, by 2014 the Southland Fish & Game Council, with full support of the national Council, appears likely to be responsible for eliminating the mallard and at the same time destroying waterfowl hunting in New Zealand – more on this shortly.

ACCLIMATISATION SOCIETIES

I became involved with the Wellington Acclimatisation Society way back in the mid 1960s when the Society had its head office and a Society branch in Wellington. The branch was the very active Southern Branch, which held regular sporting clay shoots, trout fishing expeditions, released pheasant during the season and held monthly meetings where a guest speaker was invariably invited.

In the late 1960’s some members of the branch established their own pheasant breeding and release syndicate at Pauatahanui and several thousand pheasants were released over a six year period. Returns to the gun were excellent, as was breeding in the wild – thanks to predator control and feed hoppers. This syndicate was so successful that, after initially being declined, permission to shoot hen pheasants was granted. The syndicate constructed a large incubator room, a large brooder room, two hardening-off aviaries and a 10,000 sq foot aviary that was full of lots of ground cover and numerous feed hoppers – where the youngsters learnt how to feed from hoppers and to become wild birds.

I was a member of this syndicate and most members of it eventually became Wellington Acclimatisation Society Councillors’, including myself. I was on the council for 15 years, and during the 1970s and 80s many positive activities took place in Acclimatisation Societies; game fairs, wetland purchases, wetland creation, wetland planting and management, erection of grey teal nest boxes, the protection of wetlands, predator control programmes, game bird breeding programmes, and much more. These were the days when it was an honour to be an Acclimatisation Society Councillor.

Along with over 2000 dedicated waterfowl hunters, all syndicate members supported the waterfowl diary scheme devised and operated by Tom Caithness of the NZ Wildlife Service. The diary scheme successfully solicited intrinsic information on waterfowl from all over the country and from each diary returned, Tom was able to determine important waterfowl management data, such as:

1. Waterfowl population trends in each district – mallard, parries, shoveler, grey duck, grey teal, Canada geese, black swan, pukeko, and more.

2. Size & fluctuation of waterfowl populations.

3. Number of birds harvested and numbers seen.

4. Hunting & wetland conditions.

5. Equipment used by hunters – shotguns and ammunition used and the number of shots fired.

6. General overview of the season – habitat, water levels, and much more.

In 1987, for reasons known only to itself, management of the NZ Fish & Game Council showed no interest in adopting Tom’s inexpensive diary scheme – the outcome being that today NZ Fish & Game Councils’ collectively know little about our waterfowl or about how to best manage them for the benefit of licensed members.

Many acclimatisation societies also operated their own game farms and trout hatcheries and these were the key to establishing both rainbow and brown trout, as well as establishing all game birds that exist here today.

As already mentioned, the Southland Acclimatisation Society was by far the major contributor towards establishing mallard in New Zealand, with the North Canterbury and Wellington Societies being major contributors to expanding the numbers of Canada geese.

Much has now been degraded in waterfowl management since the acclimatisation societies were eliminated – to the extent that there appears to be little future for waterfowl hunting in New Zealand.

The NZ Fish & Game Council had the potential to become a world leader in gamebird management, but with incredibly poor management skills at all levels it is seen by the majority of licensed game bird hunters as having been a dismal failure.

However, some of this can be attributed to our own apathy, because over recent years the majority of Fish & Game councillors have been elected by default – by the almost total lack of nominations for positions resulting in few elections being needed over the last five years.

Whilst there are some well qualified Fish & Game staff in regional offices, they have little influence over council decisions. There may also be no long-term future for trout fishing – and its lucrative income from tourism and licence sales – as in early 2014 it was reported that the unrelenting bombardment of NZ bush with 1080 poison is not only killing millions of endemic birds it may also be indirectly killing large numbers of trout; after trout have eaten invertebrates poisoned by 1080! The NZ Fresh Water Anglers Association has already warned its members not to eat trout in 1080 associated areas and trout ingestation of 1080 poisoned invertebrates is currently on the agenda for assessment instigated by Freshwater Anglers while having been previously ignored by Fish & Game Council (1080 was originally developed as an insecticide).

THE CONSERVATION ACT 1987

Under the Conservation Act 1987 the NZ Fish & Game Council together with twelve Regional Fish & Game Councils were established to manage sports fishing and game bird resources in New Zealand – on behalf of anglers and hunters. The role of the NZ Fish & Game Council is to nationally represent the interests of anglers and hunters and to co-ordinate this management through the twelve regional councils.

The role of the twelve regional councils is to manage, enhance and maintain sports fishing and game bird hunting. Twelve members of regional councils are elected every three years by licence holders and each Council elects one representative to the NZ Council Fish & Game Council.

Fish & Game Councils are mandated to manage fresh water sports fish – including introduced trout, salmon and some coarse fish, such as perch and tench – and game birds; including, introduced bird species such as mallard, Canada goose, black swan, upland game, native species such as pukeko, and endemic species, such as, NZ Paradise shelduck, NZ Grey duck and NZ Shoveler.

All this sounded very promising in 1987, but 27 years down the track the vast majority of game bird hunters believe that the Fish & Game Council structure and its management of trout and game birds has been an unmitigated disaster.

So bad that the Southland Fish & Game Council was declared “PUBLIC ENEMY #1” in the Southland Times, and during a two month period over 40 letters were published in the Southland Times that were highly critical of the Southland Fish & Game Council! Here are the main reasons for this:

1. The number of mallards in the North Island is now so low that the species could easily disappear. There are a number of accumulative reasons for this:

(a) A ban on lead shot in 12 gauge (soon to be expanded to all gauges) has resulted in a massive increase in birds not recovered – because 80% of hunters use steel shot because it is cheap, but this is known to increase the numbers of birds not recovered, from 7% with lead to over 50% with steel. The Fish & Game Council never had any mandate to ban the use of lead shot, with the latest fiasco of banning it in all gauges being ‘inspired’ by just one person – yet steel shot has made a major contribution to the demise of the mallard.

What also appears to have now occurred is that in the North Island there is an approximate 80% to 20%i imbalance of male to female mallards – all reminiscent of a species in decline. Of very

(b) Hunting seasons were expanded from 4 weeks to 3 months.

(c) Limit bags were increased to ludicrous numbers.

(d) The limit on decoy numbers was eliminated.

(e) Restrictions on pond feeding were eliminated.

(f) The use of electronic decoys was allowed.

(g) The restriction on magazine capacity on semi-auto and pump action shotguns was eliminated.

(h) The use of electronic duck calls was allowed.

(i) A massive reduction in the cropping of peas, wheat & barley occurred; although today there is lots of cropping now taking place in the North Island.

(j) Waterfowl refuges have also almost totally disappeared, but even at the large reserve at Pauatahanui north of Wellington that hosted over 8000 mallards during the duck season until 2006 is now almost totally devoid of waterfowl at any time during the year.

(k) Diazinon, 1080 and other chemicals used all over the country are known to kill fresh water invertebrates – and possibly trout and waterfowl.

All these points have been totally ignored by the NZ Fish & Game Council and by all regional Fish & Game councils and their staff, and they now plan to further destroy the sport by banning the use of lead in all gauges – yet only 8% of hunters use 20 gauge and 1% use smaller gauges!

2. The Canada goose is the world’s most prized game bird, but under the NZ Fish Game Council management it has become a “PEST” and can now be killed and slaughtered at any time. Nowhere else in the world has such a wildlife management disaster occurred.Of course, a glaring farce exists during the slaughter of geese from helicopter gunships – the Fish & Game hunters all use lead shot over water: okay for them, but not for licence holders! And, with Fish & Game support identical Dept of Conservation helicopter massacres have taken place on black swan – all of which is very clearly “Wildlife Management by Default.”

3. Fish & Game management of the endemic NZ Paradise Shelduck also leaves much to be desired, with continual massacres occurring all over the country and no consideration being given to the fact that a female does not breed until her third season and that an established pair have a long lasting monogamous relationship – all of this needing meaningful management.

4. Whilst the NZ Fish & Game Council has successfully enlightened the farming community and district/regional councils about the need to clean up our rivers, the $2 million (plus) of licence holders money has been spent at the expensive of waterfowl and wetlands, to the extent that game bird licence sales have dropped over the last ten years. Licence sales will get far worse now that there are few ducks to shoot in the North Island and a total ban on lead shot could easily result in the liquidation of the Fish & Game structure. A vast sum of our money was also spent on employing Sir Geoffrey Palmer on matters pertaining to the Resource Management Act.

5. Fish & Game’s mallard research commenced in 2013 and is already in disaster mode, with the nominated coordinator throwing in the towel within three months. the only outcome so far from a $300,000 budget has determined that predators kill mallards, eat ducklings and eat eggs! All quite ludicrous when there is already ample evidence regarding why mallards are disappearing and why other species such as grey teal, scaup and shoveler are doing well. The massive drop in mallard numbers in the North Island – in all areas except Northland – will inevitably result in a continual drop in game bird licence sales, with the outcome being that North Island Fish & Game Councils will find it increasingly difficult to be financially viable. For the 2014 game bird hunting season I and four associates – all of us having held game bird hunting licences for an average of 50 years – did not purchase game bird hunting licences. The ever increasing licence fee, coupled with a very low bag limit will also have a very adverse effect on licence sales and this will have a serious and lasting impact on the Game Bird Habitat Fund.

What the instigators of the anti-lead shot scenario do not appreciate is that neither the NZ Fish & Game Council nor any of the 12 regional councils have ever had a mandate to ban the use of lead shot, and besides ensuring a drop in licence sales, Fish & Game’s blind obsession with banning lead shot will ensure that few young people will be taking up the sport and elder states people will be giving it up.

In addition, I and many of my game bird game bird hunting associates have read numerous copies of the NZ Fish & Game Council meeting minutes – all of which have been a depressing annotation of an organisation lacking any direction or guidance as to where it is going, with most meetings dedicated to who is suing whom on the Council; together with well documented suggestions as to how to destroy our sport.

We have yet to see any constructive plans for the future of our sport and in spite of the Countryside Alliance in the UK publishing research findings on lead in the environment – showing that over 20 commonly eaten vegetables contain significant traces of lead, with potatoes the highest, with none of this lead being attributed to lead shot – the Fish & Game Council has pursued its blind ambition to ban the use of lead shot for waterfowl hunting – and destroy our sport for ever.

Lead is a natural element and no one has been known to die through eating too many potatoes. Likewise, no wild waterfowl species has ever been known to die from ingesting lead shot. In an effort to prove that waterfowl die from ingesting lead shot,  ‘psuedo scientists’ in the USA poured huge quantities of lead shot down the throats of captive waterfowl to show that lead shot killed them – check this out by doing a Google on “DOSING DUCKS WITH LEAD SHOT”. Some, but not all died and no research in New Zealand has ever proven that any wild waterfowl die from ingesting lead shot – including mallards, grey teal, grey duck, shoveler, scaup and swans!

In the words of eminent scientist; John Reid: “There are issues concerning the way science and scientists are perceived by the public and by themselves?” Why is it assumed that science always gets it right, that only industry is capable of wrecking the environment? There are issues about the unholy alliance between environmental scientists on the government payroll and environmental activists and lobby groups acting politically. There are issues about the way in which scientists continue to produce those environmental “threats” which have proven so useful in maintaining projects’ funding.”

And in the words of another honest scientist “It may be that 1-2% of wild waterfowl die from ingesting lead shot”. In other words – Make the ‘science’ fit a pre-determined outcome!

Independent research into lead shot and waterfowl (with no pre-determined outcome) was carried out in the Waikato during the 2001 and 2002 hunting seasons when 219 mallards were shot and autopsied. 6% of the birds had small amounts of lead in their gizzards, but all were in prime condition and were showing none of the claimed signs of poisoning – which are purported to be; weight loss, deterioration of condition of body and feathers; together with a slow 3-4 week death period.

In the latest utterly insane announcement NZ Fish & Game Council proposes to ‘grand-parent’ all shotguns in gauges smaller than 12 gauge – 16, 20, 28, & 410 calibre. They also plan to record serial numbers and data base this against ownership. Of course, such a move by Fish &Game and their staff would be illegal, unless they have a firearm dealers licence.

Here are a few of the comments I’ve had to tolerate from Fish & Game staff during my efforts to show the incompetence of the NZ Fish & Game Council’s and its lack of management skills in recognising the plight of the mallard. Comments have also been received from the same staff in regard to my two articles published in the NZ Guns & Hunting magazines -“The Mallard Demise: and “The Steel Shot Fiasco”.

“He’s only trying to save his business.” Not true – I am trying to save waterfowl hunting! But it is true that NZ Fish & Game is well down the track towards destroying game bird hunting and, in turn, much of the NZ shooting sports industry – with many long term licence holders already giving up the sport. No consideration has been given towards the astronomical price of so called “non-toxic” ammunition in 410, 28 gauge 20 gauge and 16 gauge cartridges, with shotgun and ammunition sales diminishing by the day.

 “He needs to stick to breeding rare birds.” Nonsense – I have in fact reared over 2000 ducks in captivity  including, mallard, brown teal, grey teal, grey duck, scaup and shoveler.

 “His qualifications don’t stack up.” More nonsense – this must have come from a fool with a degree or from a fool without one.

 “He’s promoting breeding mallards in captivity.” True – because this activity may well save the mallard from extinction in New Zealand and I’ve reared close to 100 during the 2013 & 2014 seasons.

 “He claims we are idiots.” I never wrote or said this.

These incredibly naïve comments come from people who are mandated to represent the interests of Fish & Game licence holders. Such comments are totally counter-productive and display a total lack of understanding of the problems being generated by them as part of the NZ Fish & Game Council.

Tom Caithness pointed out in his lead shot research summary that  New Zealand wetlands are totally different to any other country. He also mentioned that he could not determine whether any bird he examined had died of lead poisoning.

 In addition the NZ Fish & Game Council has ensured that a ban has been placed on the use of steel shot in numerous pine forests in the central North Island – because of the associated fire risk, with steel hitting steel, as well as the damage it causes to chainsaws and circular saws. There are many important wetlands in these forests.

 On top of this and because of NZ Fish & Game’s dirty river campaign (over $2 million of licence holders’ money was spent) it now seems that farming groups are banding together to prevent duck hunters and trout fishermen entering their properties.

SO, WHAT DO GAME BIRD LICENCE HOLDERS & POTENTIAL GAME BIRD LICENCE HOLDERS EXPECT FROM THE NZ FISH & GAME COUNCIL & ITS REGIONAL OFFICERS?

Here are some essential expectations that currently show no indication of being important to the NZ Fish & Game Council or its regional offices:

 Establishing a clearly defined job specification for the CEO/Manager.

 Establishing a clearly defined role and functions of  NZ Fish & Game Chairman, with some of the most important functions being – as decision maker – ensuring that the Council is complying with its statutory responsibilities and ensuring that staff are not heading in a direction that is counter-productive to the Council’s management plan.

 Establishing clearly defined roles for the Public Relations staff, complete with comprehensive job specifications.

 Establishing a clearly defined publicity/promotional plan.

 Establishing guidelines for the role that elected Councillors have to fulfil.

 Establishing clearly defining job specifications for all staff at the national

office.

 Establishing clearly defined roles of the regional NZ Fish & Game Councillors, in an effort to ensure that they have a lucid appreciation of what is expected of them and to ensure that they never have a negative influence in areas of wildlife management of which they have no expertise (the same philosophy must also apply at regional council level).

 Active participation in promoting the creation, restoration, enhancement and management of wetlands; for the benefit of the country and for all who use wetlands, particularly the waterfowl – and ensuring that funding is always available for such activities.

 Actively promoting the importance and value of wetlands.

 The production of wetland management plans – where required.

 Ensuring that there is a sufficient annual crop of waterfowl for hunters to harvest.

 Playing a key role in promoting and implementing predator control.

 Ensuring that there is a greater awareness of the need for predator control – and about the essential species to target.

 Establishing a meaningful relationship with the farming community.

 Establishing educational programmes covering: firearms safety, the value of wetlands to waterfowl, the value of associated wetland vegetation and what to plant – including shrubs, trees, predator control techniques, and so on; for the benefit of all wetland birds.

 Encouraging licence holders – in a positive and supportive manner – to participate in Council affairs, with the aim of ensuring that those elected are the best people available.

 Ensuring that all Fish & Game staff see their work as a major public relations exercise, as some are known to adopt a Gestapo-like attitude in many situations – particularly when checking hunting licenses.

 NZ Fish & Game needs to divorce itself from the political control that both the Dept of Conservation and the Minister of Conservation have over it.

 Above all a far more professional and dedicated approach towards waterfowl and wetlands management is needed, together with far more respect for licence holders, together with a realisation that all employed in NZ Fish & Game Council work – are the employees of licence holders.

SUMMARY

This brief article attempts to outline some of the numerous failings of the NZ Fish & Game Council in respect of its management of the sport of game bird hunting and its management of trout fishing – and has determined that:

 The future of the NZ Fish & Game Council and its regional structure appears to be doomed – and that it maybe too late for the Council to save itself from extinction.

 Over its 27-year history the NZ Fish & Game Council and most regional councils have collectively been an almost total abject failure in all areas of their fiduciary duties and their public profile ranks far lower than that of the acclimatisation societies – in spite of employing full time PR “experts”.

 The NZ Fish & Game Council has failed to listen to the informed opinion of licence holders and has ensured its own demise.

 The NZ Fish & Game Council has failed to promote the elimination of waterfowl predators.

 The NZ Fish & Game Council has failed to promote the sport of game bird hunting – in fact is openly discourages participation.

 Knowing the mallard as well as I do it is a species that with assistance will bounce back – but such assistance is unlikely to be forthcoming at the hands of the NZ Fish & Game Council.

 There is an urgent need to ensure that NZ Fish & Game Councillors are better informed on wildlife management issues.

 A number of Fish & Game staff need to be aware of their responsibilities to licence holders and they need to eliminate their Gestapo-like attitude towards the very people that keep them employed – and to further their education in all matters pertaining to wildlife management.

 As employers of all Fish & Game staff, licence holders are the stake holders and the intrinsic key to the future of the NZ Fish & Game Council.

 A major restructuring of the NZ Fish & Game Council is essential if it is to survive.

 It has never been proven that wild waterfowl die from ingesting lead shot – or potatoes – and the NZ Fish & Game Council has made a serious error of judgement with its move to expand its ban on lead shot.

 A massive reduction is the sale of game bird hunting licenses is expected and unless drastic action is immediately taken game bird hunting will eventually fail to exist.

 The proposal to ‘grand-parent’ sub calibre shotguns will surely go down in history as the most ludicrous wildlife management proposal ever.

PREDATORS

For readers who don’t know; here are the main predators of our waterfowl – feral cats, ferrets, stoats, weasels, harrier hawk, rats, hedgehogs and p-ukeko

Taumata Lagooon – An Example of Declining Mallard Numbers in the Wairarapa

This outstanding oxbow was once a key Wairarapa mallard flocking site and from February each year well over 5,000 mallards would arrive. But between 2000 & 2005 the numbers arriving gradually decreased and accelerated at an alarming rate after the ban on lead shot – and the advent of steel shot – to today’s level where no more than 100–150 mallards arrive, but there are large numbers of shoveler & grey teal.

In 2008 Wellington Fish & Game were invited to an Environmental Hearing – called to stop adjacent irrigation draining the lagoon – but they declined to attend.The lagoon seasons’ mallard tally has gone from 500-600 to less than 100. Such is the counter-productive success of the NZ Fish & Game Council. The lack of mallards at Taumata Lagoon is almost identical to all wetlands in the North Island, except perhaps for the fact that my Labrador has, since 2006, comfortably trebled his score for steel shot wounded birds after opening weekend.

For 24-years my dogs and I have spent every day in the wetland – exercising, checking predator traps, planting (over 15,000 trees), creating wetlands, enhancing wetlands, predator control, and so on, and we have never found any species of waterfowl that was dying from ingesting lead shot, but we have found large numbers of mallards suffering from the steel shot syndrome – still alive, but with broken wings, broken legs, large amounts of steel shot under the skin and in the breast meat.

Whilst there was a period when cropping in the Wairarapa diminished, it is now back in full swing, with lots of barley, wheat and maize being grown – but there are no mallards on the stubble!

Predator control of the area commenced in 1990, targeting; cats, mustelids, hedgehogs, rats and possums – and by April 2014 over 5000 predators had been eliminated, including the largest ferret ever eliminated in New Zealand. This 1.kg monstor was eliminated by a Timms Trap. Nothing ever survives a Timms Trap but this ferret still managed to move five metres.

Since 2002 95% of the predator control at Taumata Lagoon has been carried out by the Greater Wellington Regional Council and today a number of regional councils’ are providing similar invaluable support with predator control programmes.

Of significant interest is that whilst there are now few mallards at Taumata Lagoon other bird species, such as grey teal, shoveler, dabchick, black swan, kereru, tui, bellbird, fantail and more pork are thriving. Grey teal now outnumber mallards by 500 to 1.

Over a four decade period we have also witnessed the impact of the harrier hawk on all bird species, their eggs and their progeny, because in 1986, at the instigation of the Acclimatisation Societies, the harrier gained very questionable protection. However, under a 2012 amendment to the Wildlife Act, harriers can be legally culled if native and/or endemic species are being protected.

MANY THANKS TO ALL THE DEDICATED GAME BIRD HUNTERS WHO CONTRIBUTED TOWARDS THE CONTENT OF THIS ARTICLE

REFERENCES

1. Research carried out by the UK’s COUNTRYSIDE ALLIANCE “THE CASE FOR LEAD” Covering lead shot and lead in the environment. 2013

2. “THE STEEL SHOT FIASCO” NZ Guns & Hunting

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