Numbers for poaching and other major hunting offences plunge in province
Wildlife groups are skeptical, but province says high-profile arrests have been good deterrent
Fewer hunters are behaving badly in the woods these days, four years of provincial statistics suggest.
Major violations of the Fish and Wildlife Act have plummeted by more than 90 per cent since 2016.
Those offences include illegal hunting, illegal hunting practices, poaching, and illegal possession of carcasses and meat.
"We have seen a reduction," said Rick Nash, the superintendent for conservation enforcement with the Department of Public Safety.
Statistics obtained through right to information show there were 384 major offences under the act in 2016.
That dropped to 191 the following year. A year later, there was a more drastic reduction, with just 81 reported offences.
As of November 2019, the number had dropped again, to 27 for the year.
Nash said the mass reduction in hunting violations can be attributed to three things: better education of the public, having officers more visible and engaged with people in the forest, and high-profile enforcement operations.
He pointed to the recent completion of Operation Meat Bag, which led to a Neguac man's pleas of guilty to 27 major violations. He was fined $54,500, sentenced to 156 days in jail and banned for life from hunting in New Brunswick. Two of the man's vehicles were also seized.
It was the largest penalty for hunting offences in New Brunswick history.
"I believe it's the most severe," said Nash. "It's a record. I'm not aware of any fines that would be even close to that."
The previous largest penalty for violating the Fish and Wildlife Act was an $18,000 fine with a week in jail in 2017 for a Plaster Rock man who pleaded guilty to four major offences.
Nash said the most common major offence his conservation officers report is the illegal possession of moose meat.
Statistics don't tell all
While the numbers do appear to be shrinking rapidly, Nash said dozens of cases involving major violations are dropped each year as they make their way through the courts. Some charges are dropped in favour of guilty pleas on other charges.
Such was the case with Operation Meat Bag.
"With that there were approximately 100 violations," said Nash.
Those dropped cases are not tallied by Public Safety.
High-profile busts go a long way to deter poachers, Nash said.
"The next year, because of the deterrent of the fines and the jail sentences, that poaching tends to go down for a couple of years," said Nash. "And as it starts to go back up, you'll start to see the numbers go back up again."
More officers wanted
Those who spend time in the woods say the numbers don't reflect what they're seeing.
"It's good news, but it surprises me," said Nathalie Michaud, the president of the New Brunswick Wildlife Federation. "Because there's a lot of problems with poaching, especially in the north of the province. So that's why that surprises me."
"Poaching is still a huge problem. And a lot of people would still like to see more enforcement."
The number of conservation officers has remained unchanged during in the last four years, with 80 conservation officers operating since 2016.
The number of hunting licences issued each year has also remained relatively consistent, and not seen a drastic decline between 2016 and 2019.