Harvest Strategy for Scaup Set

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The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Service Regulations Committee met yesterday with consultants for the Flyway Councils to begin deliberations on the waterfowl hunting regulations for the upcoming fall season. Among a number of key issues addressed by the Regulations Committee this year was a harvest strategy for scaup.

“Hunters are among the nation’s foremost conservationists - they give back far more than they take,” said Service Director H. Dale Hall. “As sustainable hunting is the cornerstone of wildlife management, we must prepare to take action to conserve declining scaup populations to ensure we can provide hunting opportunities in future seasons. We are proud to have adopted a strategy to ensure harvest regulations are in concert with the status of scaup populations.”

Work on a scaup harvest strategy has been ongoing for five years. In 2006, Director H. Dale Hall and the Service Regulations Committee gave the Service and Flyway Councils one additional year to develop a scaup harvest strategy. The strategy was prepared in time to consider for the 2007 season, but an additional year was provided for biologists, administrators and hunters to become familiar with the strategy and to prepare for implementation. The harvest strategy will be used by managers to determine the appropriate bag limits and season lengths in relation to the current population size.

The scaup population has experienced a significant long-term decline. The 2007 population estimate, the most recent data available, was the third lowest on record. Recent population estimates have been more than 30 percent below the 55 year average with the biggest decline occurring over the last 25 years. The Service has expressed concern over the scaup decline for more than a decade and implemented initial harvest restrictions in 1999.

Scaup are diving ducks that breed across a large area ranging from the prairies to the tundra and boreal forest of Alaska and Canada and winter in larger bodies of water such as the Mississippi River, coastal areas, and the Great Lakes.

There is evidence that the long-term scaup decline may be related to changes in scaup habitat. Several different ideas have been proposed to explain the decline, including a change in migration habitat conditions and food availability, effects of contaminants on scaup survival and reproduction and changing conditions on the breeding grounds possibly related to warming trends in portions of northern North America. Hunting has not been implicated as a cause of the past scaup decline, but the Service is committed to ensuring that harvest levels remain commensurate with the ability of the declining population to sustain harvest.

With the adoption of this strategy, the Service will determine the appropriate regulations for scaup in relation to this year’s breeding population estimates. Currently, Service biologists are compiling the results from this year’s aerial surveys to estimate the current population size. A recommendation for this fall’s hunting season length and daily bag limit -- the number of scaup allowed in a day’s hunt -- will be made after the next Service Regulations Committee meeting in late July.

Also during the June 2008 meeting, state wildlife agencies, the Flyway Councils and the Service agreed on season lengths and bag limits for early season game species such as resident Canada geese and blue-winged teal. The special September blue-winged teal season will not change from last year, with a 16-day season in September for select states in the Mississippi and Central Flyways and a nine-day season in some states in the Atlantic Flyway.