The Department of Natural Resources plans to shut down all of the illegal deer farms in the province, officials confirmed on Wednesday.
A total of 15 illegal white-tailed deer operations have been identified, officials said. It is estimated that 140 deer are in these illegal operations across the province.
The operators have been given until June 15 to either kill their herds and harvest the meat for their consumption only, or ship them outside the province to a jurisdiction, such as Quebec, that allows white-tailed deer farms.
However, those transfers require an inspection from the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, which could be costly for the operators.
The deer cannot be sold, traded or given away, officials said.
The farms were discovered after a northwestern New Brunswick man was killed when a buck attacked him in his backyard pen.
Natural Resources Minister Bruce Northrup launched an internal investigation in October, about two weeks after the death of Donald Dubé, 55, of Saint-Léonard.
The province's Fish and Wildlife Act prohibits people from keeping native and non-native wildlife in captivity without special authorization or a permit from the Department of Natural Resources.
No permit has been ever issued for white-tailed deer farms.
A former Department of Natural Resources biologist has criticized the provincial government for not taking action against such illegal operations.
Gerry Redmond, who is now the associate director at the Maritime College of Forest Technology in Fredericton, said he advised former ministers about the problem in the 1980s and '90s, but there was no political will to shut them down.
Redmond said department staff had identified about a dozen farms at that time, primarily in the north and northeast.
The only reason backyard deer herds exist is for the trade in deer meat and to provide a supply for illegal hunting, Redmond said.
There are many reasons why wild animals should not be kept in pens, but one of the key ones is that diseases and illness in animals in captivity can develop quickly and can spread to other wildlife, he said.
Dubé's body was discovered in the enclosed field behind his home on Oct. 9. His wife called police after he had gone out to feed the deer and never returned.
According to RCMP, Dubé's body had numerous piercings that appeared to have been caused by deer antlers. He died of his injuries.
The dozen deer Dubé cared for were euthanized by wildlife officials at his family's request.
The New Brunswick Wildlife Federation is against the domestication of deer and the maintenance of personal deer herds. Ron Whitehead, a wildlife specialist with the federation, said the organization is concerned that the operations will harm the province’s deer population.