Fish & Wildlife Service ponders extending duck season, bag limit Agency sees fewer hunters and more mallards

March 30, 1997|By Peter Baker | Peter Baker,SUN STAFF

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is setting hunting seasons and bag limits for waterfowl this fall, and while it is almost set in cement that there will be no days for migratory Canada geese in the Atlantic Flyway, there are some interesting possibilities for duck hunters.

Last year, with predictions of a fine fall flight of ducks, the USFWS chose a combination of liberal bag limits and seasons. In Maryland, that resulted in a 50-day season and a bag limit of four ducks per day.

But many hunters in the state will admit they rarely came close to getting a limit, despite the great numbers of ducks that were expected to be flying south last fall.

Waterfowl managers cite warm weather, abundant habitat throughout the flyway, fewer ducks in this flyway compared with other parts of the country and low hunting pressure as contributing factors in a poor hunting season.

After a poor season, one might expect that the cautious approach might be in order for the 1997-98 splits of duck season.

However, USFWS is considering further liberalizing the parameters under which states set their seasons and bag limits. (For example, last year Maryland set a four-duck limit even though a five-bird bag was possible.)

There are three categories for season parameters -- restrictive, moderate and liberal -- and a fourth, very restrictive, is being considered. When duck populations are favorable, moderate or liberal guidelines would be followed. When duck populations are poor, restrictive or very restrictive regulations could be used.

USFWS and its Adaptive Harvest Management Working Group tie duck seasons to mallard populations because these are the most common ducks hunted in North America and the "bellwether for many other species."

And with mallard populations apparently healthy after a few years of good reproduction in the prairie pothole regions of the north central United States and central Canada, it is possible that states could have maximums of 60 days and six ducks per day.

According to USFWS, "although bag limits and season lengths could increase over those used in the recent past, the biological impact would not."

Simply, says USFWS, there no longer are enough active waterfowl hunters to create a disastrous impact on duck populations. According to USFWS, the number of waterfowl hunters peaked in 1970 at 2 million, declined to a low of 1 million in 1987 and now stands at about 1.2 million.

"We are comfortable that the changes suggested by the working group are consistent with sound resource conservation," said John Rogers, acting director of the USFWS. "However, we are aware of concerns some people may have about increasing the bag limits and season lengths, especially given the reports of disappointing hunting seasons in some areas this past fall."

Last year's fall flight was categorized as one of the largest in decades, and the previous year's was strong as well. In both cases, according to USFWS figures, an average of 10 percent of the adult mallards were taken by hunters.

In the 1970s and early 1980s, USFWS says, the take was 13 percent -- and it took several wet years in the pothole region to bring duck numbers back to about where they were before successive years of drought dried up the breeding grounds and sent duck populations spiraling downward.

"Given the number of waterfowl hunters expected in 1997 and assuming that population and habitat conditions again call for the liberal alternative," the USFWS says, "the working group anticipates a harvest rate of about 12 percent" this fall.

Safety-at-Sea Seminar

Next weekend, the popular Safety-at-Sea Seminar returns to Alumni Hall at the Naval Academy with a two-day schedule of classes on crucial elements of inshore and offshore sailing.

Topics include heavy weather sailing and the decision-making process, weather for the offshore mariner, the life raft, man overboard and recovery techniques and equipment, safety factors and adventure sailing, electronic equipment as a safety factor, preparation for a medical emergency at sea, seaworthy design and women and passage planning.

The basic session will be held on Saturday, with specialized seminars and Coast Guard rescue demonstrations.

Tickets are $50 per day or $85 for both days and are limited. Reservations are recommended. Call 301-261-1021.

Fly-fishing school

The Fenwick Fly Fishing School classes taught by Jim Gilford of Frederick will run April through June for basic, intermediate and advanced anglers, including a basic session for women only May 31-June 1.

Depending on the level of instruction, sessions include classroom and hands-on instruction in casting, biology and habitat, matching fly patterns with food sources, reading the water, presentation and playing and landing fish.

For class schedules and more information, call 301-663-3966.

Pub Date: 3/30/97

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