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Delta Opposes Proposed Reduction in Scaup Limit

BISMARCK, N.D. - Delta Waterfowl has expressed strong opposition to a proposal by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that would reduce the daily bag limit on scaup from two birds to one beginning with the coming hunting season.

In a letter to Division of Migratory Bird Management Chief Robert Blohm, Delta President Rob Olson wrote, "We believe further reducing the scaup limit is unnecessary and the wrong decision for scaup and scaup hunters."

Olson says the daily bag limit for scaup - also called bluebills - was reduced from three birds to two in 2005, giving the Service only a single year of harvest data under the current limit. "We strongly believe the Service should not place additional harvest restrictions on hunters until we better understand why scaup have declined over the last several years. Right now there is no data to suggest that hunter harvest is causing the scaup decline."

Olson also committed Delta funding for additional scaup research. "Delta is committed to working cooperatively with the Service and other agencies to find solutions to the scaup decline," Olson says. "The bottom line is that we need to dedicate the time and the resources to solve the real problem underlying the long-term decline. Right now, we’re not doing near enough and reducing harvest will not help."

The spring breeding population of scaup reached a record high of almost 8 million birds in 1972 and stood at slightly more than 7 million in 1984, but it’s dropped steadily since that time, reaching to an all-time low of 3.2 million in 2006.

Scientists have investigated numerous possible causes for the decline, from contamination of staging waters along the migration route to degradation of the boreal forest breeding grounds. But Dr. Frank Rohwer, Delta’s Scientific Director, argues that a low harvest rate on the species suggests harvest is not the limiting factor.

A harvest index derived by dividing the 2005 harvest by the spring breeding population puts the scaup harvest rate at .09, a fraction of the harvest rate for other abundant species.

"Waterfowl hunters have consistently supported restrictive harvests when needed," Rohwer says. "In return they expect harvest regulations to be science-based and not be overly restrictive, particularly if there is little evidence that harvest is adversely affecting populations."

Olson says a reduction to one scaup per day will have an extremely negative impact on that subset of hunters are diver specialists, a group that has a strong conservation ethic.

"The rich traditions and culture of diving duck hunting involving big decoy spreads on big water will be lost if these hunters have only the prospect of one scaup in the bag," Olson says. "If we lose diver hunters, we lose the staunchest conservation advocates we have for scaup. That would be a tragic mistake."

Olson is calling on the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Canadian Wildlife Service, the four Flyway Councils and other waterfowl management groups to ramp up scaup research. Olson says that should begin with a cooperative effort to band more scaup across North America. Olson also says Delta is going to commit one student annually to work on scaup population models and other research. Such research will help waterfowl managers better understand the real cause or causes of the birds’ decline.

"While it’s premature to further restrict scaup harvest, we do need to make scaup research a much higher priority," Olson says. "Attacking the lack of information on scaup population dynamics is the only viable and responsible way to ensure the sustainability of scaup."

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, the South Dakota Department of Game, Fish and Parks, the North Dakota Game and Fish Department, the California Waterfowl Association and the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, as well as the Mississippi and Central Flyways, are opposed to the proposed scaup strategy.

The Service Regulations Committee (SRC) is scheduled to make a decision on the proposed reduction later this month.

Editors: For more information, contact Delta Senior Vice President John Devney at 888-987-3695.