Declining population of sea ducks finally gets some policy help

Discussion in 'Diver Hunters Forum' started by EliteLIOutfitter, Jan 1, 2017.

  1. EliteLIOutfitter

    EliteLIOutfitter New Member Sponsor

    Nov 6, 2016
    Long Island
    From the Portland Press Herald:

    By Bob Humphrey

    I had planned to start sea duck hunting earlier this season but a few things interfered.

    One was deer season, but a more significant factor was a delay in the season opener from the traditional Oct. 1 until Nov. 11. Then, when I finally got out, it was a very short hunt.

    But after high winds brought a premature end to our hunt, I had a chance to sit down and chat with Brad Allen, bird group leader at the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife about the change in the sea duck season, running through Jan. 19.

    He summed it up by noting that “it’s taken us a while to get the seasons in line with the biology of the species.” Unlike puddle ducks, sea ducks are what biologists sometimes refer to as “K-select” species. They have a late age of first breeding, small clutch sizes and low productivity rates. Thus it may take them several years, or their lifetime, to replace themselves in the population.

    For a time that wasn’t much of a problem. “The general framework for sea duck seasons was established by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service decades ago when species like eiders were abundant and underutilized,” said Allen. But popularity in sea duck hunting has grown significantly since those frameworks were established in the 1940s.

    Despite declines, the USFWS did nothing about season restrictions or bag limits until this year. “Previously, each of the eider states made our own changes within the federal frameworks, generally by reducing the daily bag limit,” Allen said.

    Maine was among the first to take steps, reducing the daily bag from seven to five eiders in 1999, then four in 2009. It was not until this year that USFWS changed the hunting season from 107 days to 60 and reduced the aggregate daily bag limit from seven sea ducks to five. While all the coastal state biologists supported it, some – including Allen – wonder if it’s enough.

    In addition to harvest rates they must also consider production, which has been on a long-term decline. “I fear duckling survival has been reduced to perhaps as low as 5 percent on many coastal nesting islands,” Allen said. “That’s not enough to sustain a 10 percent annual adult mortality rate.”

    Fault falls with the usual suspects: foxes, raccoons, mink, otters and even eagles. The worst predators, however, are great black-backed gulls, which may be removing as much as 90 percent of the eggs/young each year. Adding to their troubles is a significant decline in the eider’s primary food source, mussels, which have all but disappeared from much of the coastline.

    But Allen is cautiously optimistic. “I’m hoping there are significant colonies where duckling survival is greater, say about 10 percent. My colleagues and I agree. Several years of terrible survival are common, but hopefully there’s a good year (or pulse) of ducklings often enough to avert disaster.”

    He noted that big declines in eider numbers resulted in a decline in sea duck guides and sea duck hunters in general, “so they’re killing fewer birds,” he said.

    Allen also has noticed a change in hunters’ attitudes. “People no longer feel like they need to limit out.”

    They’re now targeting only drakes, which has less of an impact on productivity, and an adult male eider has become more of a trophy, a one-and-done, bucket-list bird.

    Bob Humphrey is a freelance writer and registered Maine guide who lives in Pownal. He can be reached at:
    leftyhunter and iaduckhunter like this.
  2. iaduckhunter

    iaduckhunter Refuge Member

    Dec 6, 2014
    Thanks for sharing very insightful. Hopefully science will catch up to sea ducks.
  3. seaduckhunt

    seaduckhunt Elite Refuge Member

    Mar 11, 2000
    Sea duck hunting New England, MA, RI
    Yet, Mr. Allen did nothing about limiting the harvesting of hens. Could it be that he is the Bio in Maine, where they depend on a large commercial income?

    Kind of makes you say hum .
    Damian Wiening likes this.
  4. Rubberhead

    Rubberhead Elite Refuge Member

    Mar 6, 2002
    Moncks Corner, SC
    Too much disposible income killed the sea ducks. I'm glad they're putting the clamp down. They should be included with the regular duck limit (along with their own internal limits) and regular duck seasons.

    The good news is that I'm seeing a lot of juvenile birds this season and really since 2012 so hopefully that a sign of strong breeding success.
  5. Irish eyes

    Irish eyes Senior Refuge Member

    Dec 21, 2015
    I see a lot of videos where there are 4-5 or more guns in a boat. Everyone is blasting at a flock of birds. How do you chase 5 cripples? I have trouble chasing one cripple. I spend a lot of time getting that bird in the boat. Wonder if a guide with paying customers would spend that much time. Also if I don't retrieve it, it goes into the bag limit!
    Too many people blast away at sea ducks without regard for the species. Almost treat it like shooting crows. Maybe it is poor table fare or just disrespect for the birds.
    I don't know if a lot of scoter are killed out of a shore blind. Maybe they should only be hunted in the sea duck area. Shortening the season might not be enough. Usually, especially when I lived in NY, birds were never down during the early part of the season.
    leftyhunter likes this.
  6. quackaholic

    quackaholic Senior Refuge Member

    Dec 9, 2002
    I've hunted with the Pitboss and I can assure you that they are all dispatched. We only lost one bird in three days hunting. And that with high winds and terrible weather. But we in hooked the boat and retrieved all of our birds. He has the utmost respect for the sport.
    Pitboss likes this.
  7. markd

    markd Elite Refuge Member

    Nov 23, 2003
    Leesburg, Virginia
    Probably because there isn't enough data to prove one way or another if it matters. There's more data on mallards than any other bird out there and the evidence isn't even clear there.

    Why not only drake blackheads? or gadwalls? or wigeon?
  8. Wood Duck Crazy

    Wood Duck Crazy Elite Refuge Member

    Mar 12, 2004
    Western Canada
    It is about time that Sea ducks were looked closer at and some measures were put in place to reduce the hunting harvest. Should do something similar to Alaska that has seasonal limits per species for Non residents. Keeps the birds in the trophy status and reduces the kill em all attitude IMHO
  9. Irish eyes

    Irish eyes Senior Refuge Member

    Dec 21, 2015
    I did not say Pitboss was like that. I am sure if he was, someone post that and it could destroy his reputation. He seems to be a knowledgable and capable guide. I think I would enjoy an outing with him.
    If you googled"sea duck hunting" or "scoter hunting" you will see lots of yahoos blasting away. I am just saying that sea duck hunting might lend itself to wasteful practices.
  10. TonyH

    TonyH Elite Refuge Member Sponsor

    May 9, 2002
    I wonder if they have considered the huge amounts of sea ducks that now stay on the great lakes? in the past 10 years there has been huge numbers of scoters and Old Squaw using the great lakes. More than ever before and the numbers grow each year just like the amount of guides out there chasing them. Where will they go next?

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