Plague of geese puts Raglan shellfish off menu, but who's job is it to stop them?

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A Waikato hapū has placed a rāhui on an area of Raglan Harbour due to the adverse environmental effects of a booming population of Canada geese.

And farmers on the coast are fed up with the birds, too, as they gobble fresh grass and affect stock health.

Fish & Game say the number of birds “is out of control” now that no central agency manages the species.

Robert Paikea, chairman of Te Ngahere Kaitiakitanga Trust o Waingaro said the hapū had placed a rāhui on shellfish stocks because of the geese.

Waikato Fish & Game chief executive Ben Wilson said the Canada geese population was “out of control”.

Christel Yardley/Stuff

Waikato Fish & Game chief executive Ben Wilson said the Canada geese population was “out of control”.

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Increasingly, flocks of geese rest on the mudflats and oyster beds, fouling the harbour.

Geese faeces is damaging the shellfish, he said.

“We believe there is a link, because we can see the decimation of the shellfish right in front of our eyes.”

Once-plentiful mussel beds have disappeared – meanwhile geese populations have been increasing.

Flocks of geese rest on the mudflats, mussel and oyster beds, fouling the Raglan harbour, Paikea said.

Christel Yardley/Stuff

Flocks of geese rest on the mudflats, mussel and oyster beds, fouling the Raglan harbour, Paikea said.

It’s not the only reason the stocks have depleted, Paikea said, citing Raglan’s population boom, sewage issues, oil slips, but the geese were part of the problem.

“It’s been swept under the carpet for so long, and agencies have ignored the problem, now it’s blown beyond control.”

The trust has now placed a rāhui on gathering seafood in an area of the harbour.

The area of Raglan Harbour where a rāhui has been placed to protect shellfish stocks

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The area of Raglan Harbour where a rāhui has been placed to protect shellfish stocks

Paikea said the geese problem was “urgent”.

“We are trying to raise awareness of the problem, it’s not just about the rāhui, it’s about the reasons behind the rāhui.”

A group of farmers – who took a helicopter survey to spot the geese – estimate there could be 5000 in Raglan Harbour alone.

“They looked over Raglan Harbour, and they got a hell of a fright, then they looked over Kāwhia Harbour and they got another hell of a fright,” Paikea said.

Raglan farmer James Fagan said hundreds of geese can congregate on paddocks of new grass, eating the fresh feed.

Christel Yardley/Stuff

Raglan farmer James Fagan said hundreds of geese can congregate on paddocks of new grass, eating the fresh feed.

The hapū want to see more data on geese numbers, and more scientific research into the environmental effects of them.

The Kaitiakitanga Trust, an environmental arm of hapū Ngāti Māhanga and Ngā Toku Toru, wants to work with Waikato Regional Council, Ministry of Primary Industries and farmers to collectively solve the issue.

Raglan farmer James Fagan said hundreds of geese can congregate on paddocks of new grass, eating the fresh feed.

It hurts farmers’ bottom line, he said.

Robert Paikea, chairman of Ngahere Kaitiaki Trust o Waingaro said flocks of geese rest on the mudflats and oyster beds, fouling Raglan harbour.

Christel Yardley/Stuff

Robert Paikea, chairman of Ngahere Kaitiaki Trust o Waingaro said flocks of geese rest on the mudflats and oyster beds, fouling Raglan harbour.

“They eat the pasture, then we can’t stock it as much, it affects the weight gain of the animals.

Often, the only option is to chase the geese off the paddock, but that only pushes them to fly out to the harbour, where they rest and fly back in again.

A group of Raglan farmers have arranged an organised cull to try to manage the problem, he said.

Fish & Game Waikato chief executive Ben Wilson said the number of the Canada geese had gotten “out of control”.

Data from the organisation showed the population had increased by about 10,000 between 2012 and 2021.

In 2012, there were over 2000 Canada geese in Waikato lakes and western harbours, that’s now increased to more than 12,000.

Until 2011, Canada geese had “game status” and came under Fish & Game’s responsibility.

The Canada geese population has boomed in Waikato since 2011. Here, at Lake Hakanoa in Huntly, they are also causing problems, fouling the lake and at the next door sports field.

Christel Yardley/Stuff

The Canada geese population has boomed in Waikato since 2011. Here, at Lake Hakanoa in Huntly, they are also causing problems, fouling the lake and at the next door sports field.

The organisation held co-ordinated hunts for the birds at certain times a year, Wilson said.

But Federated Farmers argued Fish & Game wasn’t doing a good enough job – and successfully lobbied to have the status changed in 2011 by the then National government, Wilson said.

Now, no central agency is managing the species, so it’s left up to individual landowners and groups.

But now Fish & Game doesn’t want to take back responsibility for managing the birds.

“They’ve [the geese] rapidly expanded in area and rapidly expanded in numbers, so it’s not going to be easy to go back.”

The issue with Canada geese came under scrutiny in Waikato recently, when Waikato District Council faced criticism for proposing to poison an unruly flock at Huntly’s Lake Hakanoa.

A Canada goose at Raglan Harbour. Waikato Regional Council scientist Michael Townshend said there’s a lack of scientific knowledge about the environment effect of Canada geese.

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A Canada goose at Raglan Harbour. Waikato Regional Council scientist Michael Townshend said there’s a lack of scientific knowledge about the environment effect of Canada geese.

There’s no regulated toxin for the geese in New Zealand, so the main way to cull them is by shooting them.

Waikato Regional Council team leader for coastal and marine science Michael Townshend said there was little research on the environmental effect of Canada geese.

The council had not investigated whether there was a link between the geese and depleting shellfish stocks – that was more in MPI’s domain, Townshend said.

The council was part of Waikato University research, which showed Canada geese could potentially add stress to estuarine environments by eating seagrass.

“If local people are seeing changes, so big increases in birds using the sandflats that obviously is important and should feed in to decision-making in terms of response.

“We know the population of the Canada geese is increasing, and is on an upward trajectory.”

Allen Frazer, Acting Director Fisheries Management, Fisheries New Zealand said: “We understand mana whenua had concerns about Canadian Geese and their impacts on shellfish populations in Raglan, and we’re happy to work with them to understand those concerns.”