Decision on fall scaup limit likely this week

Bemidji, Minn. – Hunters could have fewer opportunities to shoot
a bluebill this fall.

At its meeting this week, the Service Regulations Committee is
expected to decide whether to move forward with a U.S. Fish and
Wildlife Service proposal that likely would result in some
combination of reduced hunting days and/or bag limits for
scaup.

Depending on what this year’s breeding population of scaup is,
the scaup season in the Mississippi Flyway, which includes
Minnesota, could be 45 days with a two-bird daily limit, or 60 days
with a one-one bird daily limit.

The 60-day, two-bird bag limit could stay in place if the SRC
opts not to accept the USFWS proposal, or the scaup breeding
population is above 3.75 million, according to Steve Cordts, DNR
waterfowl specialist.

Though other flyways would see more limited scaup hunting, both
the state of Minnesota and the Mississippi Flyway, among others,
have opposed the USFWS proposal to adopt a new scaup harvest
strategy.

If the strategy is adopted this week, the flyway would have to
decide at its meetings next month which regulations to put into
place. While there’s been talk of the USFWS adopting a new scaup
harvest strategy for a few years, the flyway hasn’t yet discussed
the regulatory options that might result.

“Why would we offer some sort of regulation package for a
strategy we haven’t bought into yet?” Cordts said.

In the June 18 Federal Register, the USFWS noted the flyway
recommendations regarding the scaup harvest strategy – the Atlantic
and Pacific flyway councils supported the proposed strategy, but
wanted additional conditions and modifications, while the
Mississippi and Central flyways urged the Service to delay
implementation – but proposed to proceed with adoption of the new
strategy.

“We believe that an informed, scientifically based decision
process is far preferable to any other possible approach,” the
register says. “Further, we have been patient in allowing
additional time for review by the flyway councils and general
public of the proposed strategy. We note that no substantive
criticisms suggesting that the proposed approach is not valid have
been offered.”

That’s where John Devney, senior vice president of Delta
Waterfowl, begs to differ. Delta last winter convened a panel of
scaup population experts to evaluate the USFWS scaup harvest
model.

Cordts attended that meeting, and said the group believed that
model wasn’t the best approach for implementing scaup harvest
management.

Said Devney: “That wasn’t just ranting and raving. That was good
population modelers expressing their concerns in a written report.
If that isn’t substantive criticism, I don’t know what is.”

Harmful to hunting?

Delta has been especially vocal in its opposition to the
proposed harvest strategy and notes that while scaup populations
have been on the decline since the early 1970s, they’re still the
third or fourth most abundant duck on the continent.

Devney can’t see how diver hunters would want to head out onto
big water and oftentimes nasty weather for one bluebill. If the
limit goes down to one scaup, “I think you are going to see a lot
of 18-foot (duck boats) and black and white decoys for sale.”

And in Minnesota especially, where ring-necked ducks are
important fare, hunters could have difficulty because it’s hard to
tell scaup and ringnecks apart when they’re in flight. If the scaup
limit were one, or the season was closed altogether (because it was
a 45-day season, as opposed to the full 60), hunters might be less
inclined to hunt for fear of shooting too many scaup.

“I get paid to tell ducks apart, and I hunt ducks almost for a
living in the fall,” Cordts said. “Two years ago, I had a day where
I literally had thousands of ringnecks in the decoys. The first
bird I shot that day I thought was a drake ringneck Š”

The bird ended up being a drake scaup. While he continued
hunting because the limit was two scaup, had the limit been one, “I
more than likely would have gone home” rather than risk shooting
another scaup.

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