Outdoors: Big changes in sea duck season for 2016-17

Courtesy Photo/Dave SartwellA mated pair of mallard ducks.

The 2016-17 migratory bird seasons will be set by the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife on April 21 of this year as opposed to the traditional time in August. There will be a drastic change in the sea duck season and daily limits for the coming year. 

The U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service sets a framework based on their research with the states having a minor say in when those seasons will be implemented. A public hearing will be held April 21, 2016, at 2:00 P.M., at the DFW field headquarters, 1 Rabbit Hill Road in Westborough. The DFW Board will vote on the regulations directly following the public hearing, therefore no public comments will be accepted after the hearing.

Substantial reductions in the sea duck season and limits will be implemented. Do not go to this meeting thinking you will be able to change these restrictions. There are a number of guiding operations that are going to be economically damaged by this reduction, but it appears that steps have to be taken to insure the long-term health of the populations.

Research indicates that sea ducks are long-lived birds that have fairly low reproductive rates compared with other ducks. Population abundance of these species may be sensitive to factors such as hunting that influence adult survival.

The population status of many sea duck species are poorly understood relative to other North American waterfowl, because they breed in remote areas that are not covered well by current surveys. However, recent analyses indicate that annual production is not sufficient to offset the annual mortality levels currently experienced by some sea duck populations. This is noted in the number of young harvested in relationship to the more mature birds. Over the last few years more and more older birds are being taken, indicating that reproduction is down. This is causing gradual declines in their numbers.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is obligated 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 populations. The Service and Atlantic Flyway States have identified steps for reducing the harvest of sea ducks. The proposed changes in season length and bag limits are expected to achieve an approximate harvest reduction of 25%.

The proposed 2016/2017 season for sea ducks will be reduced to one season from November 21-Jan. 28 for a total of 60 days. The daily limit will drop from seven to five. You will be able to harvest only four scoter, four eider of which only one can be female, and four long-tailed ducks.

The other big change is in the brant season. As their numbers continue to rise, the season length and limits have been extended. This year the proposed season will run almost a month longer from Nov. 21-Jan 28 with the daily bag limit increased from one to two. This column will carry the complete set of dates once they are approved by the DFW.

Improved Trout Stocking Report

Massachusetts anglers who go to Mass.gov/Trout can now view a list or a map displaying trout stocking information, which is updated daily. Anglers seeking stocking reports for a particular water body or town should use the table to locate information.

Just type the name of the water body or town into the search window to find all stocking reports for that location. The table also allows users to sort based on an attribute including town, water body, stocking date, type of fish, or district. All districts are now displayed on the same table.

The new map component of the stocking report allows users to zoom and pan to regions of the state and discover new destinations for fishing. The default map view shows the entire state, zoom to the area you would like to explore. Click on a water body (indicated by a pushpin icon or highlighted in purple when zoomed in) to view the dates and types of trout that have been stocked at that location. Stocking locations on streams are approximate, and fish swim, so be sure to investigate other reaches of the stream as well.

Turkey Reporting

With just a few days to the spring turkey season the DFW reminds all hunters that immediately following harvest, hunters must fill out and affix the tag from their turkey permit to the turkey. The turkey must be reported either online via MassFishHunt system or at a traditional checking station within 48 hours of harvest and before the bird is processed for food or taxidermy. The MassFishHunt system generates a confirmation number which must be written on the harvest tag attached to the turkey; the confirmation number serves as the official seal. The tag (or metal seal from a check station) must remain on the bird until it is processed for food or for taxidermy.