The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has approved changes to bag limits for Atlantic Flyway mallards and Canada geese for the 2019−2020 waterfowl season.
The changes were made at the recommendation of the Atlantic Flyway Council. The council contains representatives from all the agencies that have management responsibility for migratory bird resources in the flyway. The council determines actions required for sound migratory game bird management and makes recommendations to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS). Ducks Unlimited plays no role in setting bag limits or hunting seasons for waterfowl.
The following harvest regulations changes will take effect in the Atlantic Flyway during the 2019−2020 waterfowl season:
Mallards: The bag limit will be reduced from four birds to two. Further, the USFWS approved limiting hen mallards to one daily within the two-bird mallard bag limit.
Canada geese: For Atlantic Flyway states north of Chesapeake Bay (Maine, Vermont, Connecticut, New York, Pennsylvania and New Jersey), the limit will decrease from three birds to two. In the Chesapeake Bay region (Maryland, Delaware and Virginia), the limit will decrease from two birds to one. The USFWS has approved reducing the season length for all states from 45 days to 30 days. Note that these changes apply only to Atlantic Population zones and not to North Atlantic or Resident Population Canada Goose zones. Check with your local state wildlife agency for details.
The changes reflect declines in populations of mallards and Canada geese in the north Atlantic region.
“The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service uses sound science and input from states in the flyway when making these decisions,” said Dr. Tom Moorman, Ducks Unlimited chief scientist. “The USFWS and the Atlantic Flyway Council deserve credit for making a difficult management decision informed by input from waterfowl hunters. They have worked hard to accommodate the desire of waterfowl hunters while balancing the need to conserve breeding populations of these two species, while also continuing efforts to understand factors that influence these two populations of birds so that appropriate conservation actions can be taken to sustain levels that will support hunting opportunities.”
Band-recovery information suggests that most mallards harvested from North Carolina to eastern Canada are derived from the eastern population of mallards. In recent years, surveys indicate the breeding population of eastern mallards has been stable in eastern Canada but declining in the northeastern states, especially New York and Pennsylvania. According to the USFWS, the eastern mallard breeding population reached a peak of 1.1 million in 2004 but has declined since then. Last year’s estimate was 650,000 birds.
The cause of the eastern mallard population decline has not yet been determined, but Ducks Unlimited and its conservation partners are continuing to study the trend. If research shows that habitat loss or degradation is significantly influencing the eastern mallard decline, DU will evaluate potential habitat programs in cooperation with its state and federal partners geared toward stabilizing and increasing mallard populations.
Atlantic population Canada geese have decreased during the past two years. In 2018, a late spring thaw and cold weather on the population’s northern breeding grounds prevented the geese from nesting successfully. In fact, gosling production was virtually nonexistent. This is unprecedented in the 22 years that this metric has been monitored.
Analysis by the USFWS indicates that despite stable regulations since 2012, harvest rates of adult and juvenile geese have increased, and survival rates of adult birds have decreased, in recent years. Reductions in harvest achieved by implementing a restrictive season in 2019−2020 should reduce the likelihood of the population declining to a level (60,000 pairs) in which a closed season would be prescribed.