Fears that the late Tasmanian arrival of migratory muttonbirds could spell disaster for the breeding season have been partially dispelled after subsequent egg laying in the Furneaux Islands was largely reported as on time.
The effective cancellation of the 2020 recreational muttonbirding season - which usually runs in early April - could also allow for the protection of the species ahead of the next migration, BirdLife Tasmania believes.
All muttonbird rookeries on reserve land were closed to public access, while many private landowners have restricted access to rookeries on their properties to protect from the spread of COVID-19.
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The Aboriginal community's commercial and cultural muttonbird harvesting is continuing on Big Dog Island and Babel Island, with small crews in operation.
Concerns were raised in October when hundreds of thousands of muttonbirds, also known as short-tailed shearwaters, were reported in the Bering Sea when they should have already arrived back in Australia.
In December, burrow occupancy was found to be slightly below average in the Furneaux Islands, but above average at Fort Direction.
"Although there was concern about the late arrival of birds at breeding colonies, based on a check of a proportion of burrows using a specialised 'burrow' camera, there was no indication that egg laying was later than normal," the Department of Primary Industries, Parks, Water and Environment reported.
BirdLife Tasmania convenor Eric Woehler said they would need to see results from chick harvesting to determine how successful the season had been.
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"It's not until we get a sense of what's happening later in the season, when the chicks are growing, that we'll be able to get a sense of what's happening in the colonies," he said.
But social distancing measures and the closure of parks and reserves had made research difficult.
Dr Woehler said the lack of a recreational season could have its benefits for the future.
"If there was something unusual about that season - like the early arrivals, or strange results manifested in a low breeding season - it would have been quite appropriate for recreational harvesting to be prohibited for a season," he said.
"Our position is that we don't support the recreational harvesting as it's a completely discretionary activity and is a disruptive activity."
BirdLife Tasmania does support muttonbirding for commercial and cultural reasons in the Aboriginal community.
Aboriginal Land Council of Tasmania manager Graeme Gardner said only those living internally within the Furneaux Islands were participating in the muttonbirding season, and all social distancing measures were being undertaken.
He said the unusual season had some worried, but there had been a good start to harvesting.
"The birds are really good, very healthy and well-fed," Mr Gardner said.
"There's probably about a 10 per cent lower burrow occupancy."