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Minister Receives MAF Feral Deer Report

Agriculture Minister Jim Sutton intends to push for changes to the way the registration system for feral deer hunters operates.

Mr Sutton said today that he had received a report on the issues surrounding feral deer meat exports, and generally agreed with its recommendations.

He said it was worth exploring ways of enhancing the current system to see if potential risks could be eliminated, before investigating more severe measures.

"I am encouraged that MAF reports companies now have increased awareness of the critical importance of complying with the rules."

It is estimated that about 1000 tonnes of feral deer meat was produced each year, and that about 800 tonnes of that was exported. Feral meat sales are estimated to earn about $12 million a year in export income.

Last month, MAF withdrew export certification for feral deer meat supplied by hunters charged with involvement in illegal hunting. At the same time, Mr Sutton called for a report looking at the issues around continuing to export feral deer meat.

Feral deer processing plants made their own decisions at the same time to stop accepting and processing feral deer. This reaction was not as a result of any legal prohibition.

The report, made public by Mr Sutton today, says that MAF is to increase the amount of sampling and testing of feral meat. The Conservation Department, with MAF, is to review the operating systems for hunting on conservation land.

It recommends that MAF officials be given the power under the Animal Products Act to seize assets associated with the committing of offences.

Mr Sutton said this would give MAF officials similar powers to fisheries officers.

The report says Section 207 of the Fisheries Act 1996 contains powers that allow fishery officers to seize assets associated with the committing of the offence. This power is used on the basis that the regulator is not in a position to verify fisheries activities, so the potential for asset seizure acts as an alternative incentive for compliance. It says it is considered that hunter activity, like other non-verifiable activities, is similar to fishing activity.

"MAF considers that a power of seizure should be made available under the Animal Products Act. The impact is immediate, and arguably more of an incentive for compliance, compared with the penalties already in the Animal Products Act because, although high, there is no guarantees that penalties approaching the maximum would be imposed. In fact, experience with the Meat Act offence provisions would indicate that deterrent penalties are very rarely imposed."

Other recommendations that the Government is keen to implement include: · requiring hunters to present carcasses with both their own declaration and a similarly dated landowner/manager declaration where not hunting on DoC land. This would ensure that the landowner/manager declaration was current and related to the area hunted; · Helicopters procuring game for processing should be required under the Animal Products Act to carry clear, legible helicopter identification. Certified hunters should be required to submit identification information (such as vehicle registration, boat name) for MAF records to facilitate in hunter identification and trace-back. It is also intended to make it an offence to be actively engaged in commercial feral game hunting using a helicopter, vehicle, boat or other conveyance that is not recorded in a MAF database.

Mr Sutton said that measures to enhance the co-operation and intelligence sharing between MAF, DoC, AgriQuality, NZ Police and industry would be put in place.

He said that the current checking by processors of the authenticity of the declarations provided by hunters and landowner/managers would also be substantively increased.

Another suggestion that would be seriously considered was the proposal to hunt deer during a season from October to March each year. Mr Sutton said it had merit and he had asked officials to do more work on this.

Mr Sutton said he would discuss the report with other ministers, and had asked MAF to report further on how to implement the proposals. There would be consultation with industry representatives and other affected parties, he said.

Ends

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