Animal conservationists have lashed out at an annual swan hunt planned to take place on Tauranga Harbour this weekend.
But Fish and Game officials have defended the cull, saying it had to balance these concerns against those of harbourside property owners and public users, farmers whose crops are eaten and airport officials who at times have voiced concern that the birds could pose a threat to air traffic.
The Black Swan Hunt will take place tomorrow as a way of reducing black swan numbers in the region.
The Bay of Plenty Times Weekend was inundated with complaints about the hunt, with some people labelling it as "barbaric" and "disgusting".
Reader Siobhan Bailey described the hunt as "nothing short of animal cruelty".
"I am shocked at how barbaric this act is. The deliberate hunting and maiming of the beautiful black swans is horrific, and I can understand how awful it must be for people to see let alone for children to witness," she says.
Jetskis and boats were used to herd swans away from public, over toward Matakana Island where the birds were then shot.
"It's such a sad sight to see these graceful creatures be murdered in this barbaric way."
The hunt is organised by Fish and Game New Zealand (FGNZ) in conjunction with the Western Bay of Plenty Fish and Game Club, based at Katikati. Black swans have been the subject of regular complaints for leaving faeces on beaches and mud flats, posing aviation hazards at Tauranga Airport and threatening seagrass meadows by consumption.
Animal advocate group SAFE campaign director Eliot Pryor said the hunt was of significant concern and the group had received a lot of complaints about its inhumanity.
"It's really not acceptable. It should be reconsidered," Mr Pryor says.
"The method of killing those animals is actually causing suffering, to shoot them. It's a cruel way of treating any animal or living thing.
"If it's about conservation, there are more humane ways of doing it."
In letters to the editor, Catherine Robinson said the hunt was hypocritical for using hunters when it was meant to be conservational. Ms Robinson said she was "sickened" by the hunt.
Another reader Vivienne Robinson said FGNZ needed to find another method of protecting the local waters. "This cruel, horrifying spectacle of swan shooting should be not allowed to continue."
Amanda Hunter said the process of swans being herded by watercraft would cause them "great distress".
Aucklander Michelle Hutchinson said she would not be planning any trips to Tauranga if the city allowed the hunt, and Jean Lyle questioned who gave the hunters the right to "blast these creatures to death".
Fish and Game Eastern Region manager Rob Pitkethley told the Bay of Plenty Times Weekend it acknowledged some people found the hunts disturbing, "but we have to balance that against the concerns of harbour-side property owners and public users, farmers whose crops are eaten and airport officials who at times have voiced concern that the birds could pose a threat to air traffic.
"We also have a duty to our game bird licence holders who are hunting these birds quite legally."
There was a strong case to allow the black swan hunts on the harbour, Mr Pitkethley said.
"People are concerned it's a cull, but in reality it's a group of game bird hunters getting themselves organised to target swans for a day. And given the effects the swans have on the harbour, Fish and Game ... are prepared to assist them to remove the black swans," Mr Pitkethley says.
In a statement, FGNZ said it had talked to the hunters prior to the hunt to ensure procedures were in place to deal with any birds that were not killed outright, to ensure that any wounded birds were dispatched as quickly and humanely as possible.