Delta News

Upcoming USFWS Meeting Could Decide Fate of Scaup Bag Limit Future of Scaup Hunting Traditions at Stake

Bismarck, N.D-The future of scaup hunting in America could be decided on June 25th at a meeting of the Service Regulations Committee (SRC), the U.S. Fish and Wildlife (USFWS) Service regulatory body that recommends duck harvest strategy.

Delta Waterfowl is concerned that the SRC will adopt a USFWS proposal that would reduce the scaup bag limit for the upcoming waterfowl hunting season.

"We are reluctant to question the judgment of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, but we're extremely worried this meeting could be the last word on scaup regulations, and we believe the model the Service is using to determine scaup harvest may be inadequate and in the least needs to be revisited," said Delta President Rob Olson. "In our view, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has not yet sufficiently addressed the concerns and recommendations of Delta Waterfowl and other organizations, which last year went on record opposing the proposed scaup harvest reduction."

Last year, Delta Waterfowl sent a letter to Division of Migratory Bird Management Chief Dr. Robert Blohm, urging the USFWS not to pursue its proposed harvest strategy because the evidence did not immediately warrant the bag limit reduction.

In February, Delta Waterfowl convened a scientific panel of scaup population experts to evaluate the USFWS scaup harvest model. The expert panel raised several significant questions concerning the model and recommended that it should not be adopted as harvest strategy. The panel concluded that more work is needed on model development before a new scaup harvest strategy is adopted. The panel also recommended that any new scaup population models developed by the USFWS be reviewed by an independent committee of scaup experts.

"The bottom line is that there's been insufficient dialogue and action concerning the letter and it recommendations, which is worrisome considering that Delta had assembled some the brightest minds in waterfowl management, who collectively came to a consensus that dropping the scaup limit would be the wrong thing to do given the current evidence," said Olson. "If the Service Regulations Committee decides to adopt the proposed harvest strategy on June 25th, which would result in a reduced bag limit, it would be very hard in the future to reverse that decision."

The spring breeding population of scaup (which includes both greater and lesser scaup, also commonly known as bluebills) has declined since the early 1970s. However, biologists who attended two major scaup scientific workshops in recent years agreed that the cause of the population decline was likely caused by habitat changes, not hunting, said Delta Scientific Director Dr. Frank Rohwer. "It's highly unlikely that hunter harvest is a major factor in the scaup decline."

Rohwer notes scaup remain the third most abundant duck species in North America and that their annual harvest is only a fraction of that sustained by other abundant species.

"Historically, Delta Waterfowl has consistently adopted a conservative posture on waterfowl harvest," he said, adding that hunters have consistently supported restrictive regulations when needed. "But right now we just don't have any meaningful evidence that harvest is a limiting factor. That's why it's critical that we do more scaup population monitoring through banding and other research, and take a second look at the current scaup population model before we restrict hunters."

Olson believes that reducing the scaup bag limit will have an extremely harmful impact on one of waterfowling's most passionate constituencies—diver hunters. "Diving duck hunters have one of the strongest conservation ethics of all waterfowlers," Olson says. "If we lose diver hunters because of a premature reduction in the scaup bag limit, we lose our greatest advocates for the bird and its habitat, as well as the rich culture and tradition of diver hunting. That would be a shame."

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 Central and Mississippi Flyways, opposed the 2007 U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposal to reduce the scaup bag limit until the current harvest model is fully re-examined.