The 2015/2016 migratory game bird regulations have just been set by the Fisheries Wildlife Board. Understanding that migratory birds do not recognize state borders, the federal government sets fairly strict guidelines on bag limits with a few options as to season dates left to each state.
There will be a couple of really significant changes coming next year. First, the 2016 seasons and limits will be set in the coming spring. There has always been a dissatisfaction on determining the season dates in August when some of the seasons start in September.
However, the big change will be in the harvest of sea ducks. Sea ducks are long-lived birds that have fairly low reproductive rates compared with other ducks, which suggests that population abundance of these species may be sensitive to factors such as hunting that influence adult survival. Because they breed in remote areas that are not covered well by current surveys, the population status of many sea duck species are poorly understood relative to other North American waterfowl. However, recent analyses indicate that annual production is not sufficient to offset the annual mortality levels currently experienced by some sea duck populations, and this is causing gradual declines in their numbers.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s obligation is to ensure that populations of migratory birds remain sustainable. While the total sport harvest of sea ducks in the Atlantic Flyway is low relative to other waterfowl species, they believe that reductions in harvest levels may be needed to help stabilize those populations. This recommendation comes following a recent assessment of the harvest potential for sea ducks. The Service and Atlantic Flyway States have identified steps for reducing the harvest of sea ducks, and the proposed changes in season length and bag limits are expected to achieve an approximate harvest reduction of 25%.
Concurrently, efforts are being made within the scientific and management community to improve information about the population status of sea ducks and address monitoring and research priorities needed to support harvest management decision-making.
Below are only the coastal season dates. These are advisory only. Go to www.mass.gov/eea/agencies/dfg for more information.
Woodcock season: Oct. 7-Nov. 21. Bag limit 3.
Sora and Virginia Rail: Sept. 1-Nov. 7. Bag limit 5 for Sora and 10 for Virginia.
Snipe: Sept. 1-Dec. 16. Bag limit 8.
Ducks: Oct. 16-24 and Nov. 11-Jan. 9. Bag limit 6 of which there can be no more than 1 black duck, 2 canvass back, 1 fulvous whistling, 2 hooded merganser, 4 mallard of which only 2 can be female, 1 mottled, 2 pintail, 2 redhead, 2 scaup, 3 wood duck, no harlequin, and 4 all other ducks.
Sea Ducks: Oct. 3-Jan. 30. Sea ducks are scoter, eider and long-tailed duck. Bag limit 7 of which there can be no more than 4 scoter of which there can only be 1 hen, and 4 long-tailed ducks (old squaw).
Canada Goose: Sept. 8-Sept. 25. Bag limit of 7. Oct. 16-Oct. 24 and Nov. 11-Jan. 21. Bag limit 3. Jan. 23-Feb. 13. Bag limit 5.
Snow/Blue Goose: Same as ducks plus Jan. 23-Feb. 13. Bag limit 15.
Brandt: Dec. 28-Jan. 30. Bag limit 1.
The Coastal Zone is east of a line that runs from the New Hampshire line southward on I-95 to Route 1, South on Route 1 to I-93, South on I-93 to Route 3, South on Route 3 to Route 6, West on Route 6 to Route 28, West on Route 28 to I-195, West on Route I-195 to the Rhode Island line except that the waters and the lands 150 yards above the high water mark of the Assonet River to the Route 24 bridge and the Taunton River to the Center Street/Elm Street bridge shall be in the Coastal Zone.
Hunting hours are 1/2 hour before sunrise to sunset.
Personal Flotation Devices-Anyone aboard a canoe or kayak from Sept. 15 - May 15 must wear a life jacket or vest.
Shotgun-Migratory game birds may be hunted with shotguns no larger than 10 gauge, fired from the shoulder. Shotguns capable of holding more than 3 shells may not be used unless plugged with a one-piece filler which limits the gun’s total capacity to 3 shells and which cannot be removed without disassembling the gun.
Stamps - Each waterfowl hunter 16 years or older must carry on his person a valid federal waterfowl stamp and each hunter 15 years or older must purchase a Massachusetts waterfowl stamp. The federal stamp must be signed across the face in ink. Stamps are required for hunting any ducks, geese, or brant, but not required for hunting rails, snipe, wood- cock, or American coot. Federal stamps are valid July 1 - June 30 and are available at all National Wildlife Refuges, selected U.S. Post Offices, and at usps.com. Massachusetts state stamps are valid Jan. 1 - Dec. 31 and may be purchased online at mass.gov/massfishhunt or wherever hunting licenses are sold.
HIP Survey-Woodcock, snipe, rail, duck, and goose hunters must register with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Harvest Information Program (HIP) by taking a HIP survey each calendar year. HIP surveys can only be completed through the online MassFishHunt system; the HIP survey is no longer available by telephone and HIP numbers are no longer issued. Non-resident hunters are reminded they must complete a HIP survey for each state they hunt in. HIP data gathered from migratory game bird hunters is used by state and federal biologists to better evaluate hunter effort and harvest.
Duck and goose hunters must purchase a state waterfowl stamp and are automatically prompted to complete the Hunter information Program (HIP) survey during the transaction. Waterfowl hunters who purchased a state waterfowl stamp to hunt in January and February of 2015 are already registered for the entire calendar year and do not need to take any action. Migratory game bird hunters who ONLY hunt woodcock, snipe, or rail do not need a waterfowl stamp and must complete a HIP survey as a separate step during or after their hunting/sporting license purchase.