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4.1 Commercial harvest and use - Management Program for the Saltwater Crocodile in the Northern Territory of Australia, 2012 2014

4.1 Commercial harvest and use




Restrictions on live animal harvesting
The Northern Territory Government will seek to maintain the presence of a visible crocodile population and large iconic (generally ≥ 4.5 m) individuals through the creation of zones where harvesting of life cycle stages other than eggs is restricted. Harvesting will be prohibited or restricted in some areas or circumstances if necessary to maintain local or regional populations or to maintain non-use benefits from the species. Large individuals can be removed wherever there is a public safety or livestock concern. In general, harvesting of juvenile and adult crocodiles will not normally be permitted:

  1. In waterways where the watercourse forms the boundary between two or more properties.

  2. In catchments that are heavily used by the tourism and fishing industry e.g. the Mary River catchment downstream of the Arnhem Highway, the Adelaide River catchment downstream of the Marrakai Crossing, the East Alligator River, and the Daly River catchment west of Oolloo Crossing. Where low level harvest is permitted such as for skins, farms or for safari hunting, it will be strongly regulated to ensure that tourism interests are not damaged.

  3. From sites where crocodiles are particularly significant to local Indigenous people.




Performance Indicator



Ensure all harvest permits minimise the possible negative impact on, or conflict with, tourism, social or cultural interests.



Harvest ceiling
The harvest ceilings covering both eggs and animals that have developed through previous management programs were based on an adaptive management approach through implementation of a conservative harvest, monitoring the impact of that harvest and subsequent adjustment of the harvest. The harvest ceilings were set well above what was anticipated to be collected and well within what was considered sustainable.

The total number of C. porosus that can be taken commercially within the Northern Territory in a financial year, or for eggs during a nesting season, within this program is shown in Table 3. There is no requirement for the Northern Territory Government to allow the full harvest ceiling to be taken in any year.

Table 3:

Annual ceiling for the harvesting of crocodiles and their eggs from the wild. Numbers are set for the financial year to include the nesting season. The egg ceiling is based on live eggs.

Stock



2009/2010



2010/2011



2011/2012

1



2012/2013



2013/2014



Eggs

50,000

50,000

60,000

60,000

70,000

Hatchlings

500

500

500

500

500

Juveniles

400

400

400

400

400

Adults

500

500

500

500

500

1

The egg ceiling shown in 2011, 2012, and 2013 is an indicative increment based on appropriate monitoring results and sustainability considerations.

Egg Harvest



The use of egg numbers as the basic measurement of the egg harvest has remained unchanged and will continue in this program. The harvest ceiling permits and egg allocation will be based on ‘live’ eggs (see definitions). This change addresses concerns from both industry and regulators. A practical compliance measure at an early stage in the harvest/farming process is now the measure of eggs placed into the incubator. Royalties to the Northern Territory Government will continue to be based on ‘viable’ eggs.

The natural mortality of eggs in the wild is usually high but varies depending on the weather (Webb and Manolis 1993). It has been suggested that the mortality of crocodiles at each stage of their life cycle (hatchling, juvenile and adult) is partially dependent on the density of larger crocodiles that prey upon and competitively exclude smaller crocodiles (Webb and Manolis 1993). Because a very low percentage of eggs/hatchlings would normally survive to later age classes in the wild (Webb and Manolis 1993) and the current harvest represents a very small proportion of the total number of eggs laid each year (NRETAS internal data), it is unlikely that the harvesting of crocodile eggs at current rates will substantially affect the size or age structure of the population (Appendix 3). Continued monitoring will insure that the proposed level of egg harvesting remains sustainable.

Currently 10 of the 12 monitored rivers are harvested. All monitored rivers have shown an increase in both abundance and biomass (Appendix 3). This is consistent with the continued increase in the overall population in the Northern Territory (Figure 1) and it supports continuing with an adaptively managed increase in the egg harvest.

Recent levels of egg harvest have been approaching 40,000 eggs. It is proposed to commence this program with an increased ceiling of 50,000 live eggs for at least the first two years of the program.

Non-hatchling harvest



The increased focus by industry on harvesting eggs has been paralleled by a decreasing take of non-hatchlings. The recent commercial take of adults has been less than 100 animals each year between 2003 and 2009 which demonstrates the previous quota of 500 is in excess of what is needed. Quotas firstly need to be demonstrably sustainable but they should also be reflective of the needs of public safety and industry. Accordingly the ceiling of each of the juvenile and adult size classes is reduced by 100 individuals from the previous program.

The safari hunting of crocodiles will be trialled during the life of this program. Safari hunting has been allocated a Territory-wide quota of 50 animals per annum, noting that not all the quota need be allocated. This quota of 50 animals is included within the quota for the wild-harvesting of adult crocodiles (Table 3). A minimum size limit for crocodiles taken by safari hunters will be 3.5 m. There will be no maximum size limit but the hunting of large ‘iconic’ crocodiles will be subject to the restrictions detailed previously (see 4.1 Commercial harvest and use – Restrictions on live animal harvesting p.18) and to a case by case assessment through the permit process. For safari hunting the method is restricted to shooting (see Appendix 5) and the take of animals must comply with the Code of Practice on the Humane Treatment of Wild and Farmed Australian Crocodiles.

Further consultation in the form of meetings and workshops will be undertaken with a broad range of stakeholders within twelve months of safari hunting being approved under the management plan in order to streamline the guidelines presented in Appendix 5. Stakeholders to be consulted will include Indigenous landholders and pastoralists, safari operators and tourism operators within the range of the saltwater crocodile in the Northern Territory, the Northern Territory and Australian Government agencies with responsibility for crocodile management, the Northern, Tiwi and Anindilyakwa Land Councils, the NT Cattlemen’s Association , the Safari Hunters’ Association of Australia and animal welfare agencies.

These consultations would finalise the detailed specific requirements for safari operations contained in the guidelines presented in Appendix 5, would determine the specifics of the allocation of crocodiles for safari hunting across the ‘Top End’ of the Northern Territory, and would finalise specific requirements for the issuing of a permit by the responsible Northern Territory government department (NRETAS).

The Australian Government department responsible for administering the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (the EPBC Act) will be notified of any changes to the guidelines which will then decide if the changes are significant enough to require approval by the Australian Government minister. The actual trial would not be conducted until after this additional consultation is completed and any significant changes to the guidelines have been approved by the Commonwealth minister (if required) or the Australian Government department responsible for administering the EPBC Act.

Harvest review



The maximum harvest ceiling of all life stages will be reviewed every 2 years immediately after the population surveys have been completed and analysed. Should the monitoring indicate that populations are increasing or remaining stable and the harvest impact is within the established sustainable limits then further increasing the maximum harvest ceiling will be considered. Conversely, should declining trends be demonstrated then the need for harvest restrictions will be assessed as outlined in Section 4.8. This Management Program provides for two indicative egg harvest increments in years 3 and 5 of the Program. The consideration and justification for any changes in the harvest ceiling will be presented within the required reporting framework.

The Director of the Parks and Wildlife Commission may vary the ceiling, provided that, in the case of an increase, the Australian Government has provided endorsement of the change in writing.

Prior to making a decision to revise the ceiling, the Northern Territory Government will consider the following:

Local sustainable harvest levels within specific areas of land subject to harvesting will be determined after similar considerations. The geographic basis for this will be based on regional catchments as defined in Figure 3. The current percentage of egg harvest in each catchment reflects a number of historic parameters such as access to helicopters, productivity and ease of collection, and landholder interest in the industry (Figure 3). The percentages have not been fixed for future seasons. An improved GIS database to assist with both the allocation of eggs and the assessment of harvest effort and compliance will be developed.

If demand for eggs is greater than the ceiling, the Northern Territory Government will apply a set of criteria/principles to apportion eggs to applicants to remain within the harvest ceiling. The process will be conducted to ensure the allocation is equitable and transparent. The criteria will be developed in consultation with stakeholders and made available on the web at (http://www.nt.gov.au/nreta/wildlife/programs/crocsustain/pdf/criteria_crocegg_allocation.pdf).

The harvest levels set out in Table 3 are both conservative and adaptive, and populations harvested at these levels are expected to fluctuate primarily in response to environmental conditions such as rainfall and the availability and quality of breeding habitat (Fukuda et al. 2007).


Figure 3

: Regional catchments used for C. porosus egg allocation. The percentage of the egg harvest allocated to each region shown is averaged from the collecting seasons of 2003/04, 2004/05, 2005/06 and 2006/07. These proportions are not static and are expected to vary between years and over time.
Precautionary approach
The following attributes of the species and the harvest introduce a number of precautionary elements. Some of these can be applied as measures which can be implemented should a serious decline (see section 4.8) be detected that merits management intervention.

Resilience of the species

The Northern Territory crocodile population is inherently strongly resilient and able to rapidly recover as exemplified by the extraordinary recovery from near extinction after protection in 1971. The survey data shows that the population structure is shifting to proportionately larger crocodiles (Appendix 3). Given the large number of eggs laid each year (average clutch size 50) and their high mortality due to flooding (Webb and Manolis 1993), an increased level of egg harvest is expected to have little impact on hatchling recruitment. The species is also highly mobile and able to disperse widely.

Monitoring

There is regular population monitoring and the frequency of this monitoring can be increased should it be required. This means it is possible to detect an adverse trend and implement corrective actions within an appropriate time frame relative to the life cycle attributes of the Saltwater Crocodile (see section 4.8).

Harvest Efficiency

Currently not all eggs can be collected from all areas due to the difficulty in finding nests, accessibility and the increasing costs with increased remoteness.

Non-harvest areas

A system of non-harvest areas provides a safety net to ensure hatchling recruitment into the population. The primary non-harvest area is the West and South Alligator Rivers within Kakadu National Park. The existing monitoring surveys include harvested and non-harvested rivers and this provides the means to investigate if there is a relationship between any population changes and the extent of any harvesting impact.

Ranching with return to the wild

The original concept of ranching in the context of CITES is based on a percentage of ranched individuals being returned to the wild to maintain the natural recruitment of hatchlings into the population. The high mortality of the earliest life cycle stages is therefore avoided and such a release should enhance recruitment into the population.

Due to the increasing crocodile population in the Northern Territory there has never been a requirement to release hatchlings or older stages back into the wild in the ranching program. Such a regular system of release is unlikely to be logistically practical in the Northern Territory. Additional constraints to the cost and logistics include increased risk of disease introduction into the wild population and the fitness of captive raised individuals for reintroduction into the wild.

Nevertheless reintroduction remains a feasible option that can be implemented if needed to address a serious decline in the population at the local or broader level.

Performance Indicators



Develop and implement a GIS database to assist with both allocation of eggs and monitoring harvest effort and compliance.

Investigate and take appropriate action on all suspected local impacts on the population.

Instigate adaptive management actions should there be any increased threats to the Saltwater Crocodile and their habitat.

Ensure the harvest ceiling is set in accordance with the provisions of this management program.

Assess all permit applications and ensure egg allocation is distributed across harvest regions in accordance with the provisions of the management program.


2014-07-19 18:44
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