Liberal waterfowl seasons, limits offered

Elizabethtown, N.Y. — On the heels of a continental duck population estimate just below last year, and habitat conditions that were similar, or slightly improved, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has announced it once again is giving states the option of liberal seasons and bag limits for the upcoming waterfowl season.

Additionally, it’s allowing states to offer possession limits that are three times the daily bag limit.

In the Atlantic Flyway, of which New York is part, the season – which can run for 60 days  – can open as early as Sept. 21 and end by Jan. 26, 2014. New York’s tentative regular-season opening dates range from Oct. 5 in the Northeast waterfowl hunting zone to Nov. 28 in the Long Island zone. The Lake Champlain season date had yet to be announced at press time.

DEC has tentatively set a Sept. 21-22 youth waterfowl hunt, the earliest of the state’s five waterfowl zones.

The USFWS also is allowing a daily bag limit of six ducks, which may include no more than four mallards (two hens); four scoters; three wood ducks; three scaup; two redheads; two hooded mergansers; two pintails; two canvasbacks; two redheads; one mottled duck; one fulvous whistling duck and one black duck.

In New York, the proposed daily bag limit of mergansers is five, only two of which may be hooded mergansers. New York is among the states that include mergansers in the duck bag limit.

For Atlantic brant, the season length may be 30 days, with a daily bag limit of two.

New York’s tentative Canada and snow goose seasons are also in place. A popular early September season will open Sept. 1 or Sept. 3, depending on the region, and run through Sept. 25 or Sept. 30. The daily limit is 15 Canadas – with the exception of the three-bird limit in the Lake Champlain zone – as state officials attempt to trim the number of resident geese.

Regular-season limits range from two to eight geese.

Snow goose seasons kick off Oct. 1 throughout much of the state (Nov. 24 in the Long Island zone), and there will also be a Jan. 16-April 15 offering in much of New York as part of a special harvest effort.

The major waterfowl changes from last year include a reduction in the daily bag for scaup, and an increase for canvasbacks.

The USFWS is also proposing to increase possession limits for ducks and geese to three times the daily bag limit. The proposed late-season waterfowl frameworks were scheduled to appear in a mid-August edition of the Federal Register for public comment.

Hunters were allowed four scaup last year, but the limit was cut by one after the species’ estimated population dropped from 5.2 million last year to 4.2 million this year.

On the other hand, the canvasback population estimate – 787,000 – was near a record, and 37 percent above the long-term average. For that reason, the daily bag limit can be as high as two cans, up from one last year.

The last time the canvasback limit was two per day was 2008.

Overall, population estimates for most species of ducks remained strong for this breeding season, according to the USFWS 2013 status report. In the traditional survey area, which includes the north-central United States, south-central and northern Canada, and Alaska, the 2013 total duck population estimate was 45.6 million birds, a decrease of six percent from last year’s estimate of 48.6 million, but still 33 percent above the long-term average (1955-2012). 

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