by Ted Nichols, Wildlife Biologist
Waterfowl Ecology and Management Program
April 12, 2019
The NJDEP Division of Fish and Wildlife has finalized the 2019-20 migratory bird hunting seasons.
|Below are notable highlights:
Each year, the US Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) develops migratory bird hunting regulations with input and consultation with the Atlantic, Mississippi, Central, and Pacific Flyway Councils and the Canadian Wildlife Service. The Flyway Councils are comprised of representatives from state and provincial wildlife agencies that work with the Service to cooperatively manage North America's migratory bird populations.
Beginning in 2016, the Service and Flyway Councils developed a new schedule for migratory game bird hunting regulations. This cycle results in season dates and bag limits being set much earlier than the previous process that had been used since the 1950s. This new process will make hunting season planning more convenient for migratory bird hunters.
Goose decoys are unperturbed by mischievous dog
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During the annual regulatory cycle, biologists gather, analyze, and interpret biological survey data and provide this information through published status and administrative reports. To determine the appropriate frameworks for each species, biologists consider factors such as population size and trend, geographical distribution, annual breeding effort, the condition of breeding and wintering habitat, the number of hunters, and the anticipated harvest. Although survey results still govern decisions for annual hunting seasons, the new process will no longer consider the current year's survey data but rather be based on predictions derived from long-term biological information and established harvest strategies.
Duck hunting regulations are based on biological population assessments using the Adaptive Harvest Management (AHM) process, which was developed cooperatively by the Service and Flyway Councils. AHM is an objective, science-based, regulation-setting process. For over 20 years, duck seasons in each flyway have been based on the status of the mallard population most abundant in each flyway. Mallards have been used since they are the most common species with the most monitoring information. In the Atlantic Flyway, eastern mallards have undergone a long-term, chronic decline of about 1.5% per year for the past several years. However, during that same time, the vast majority of the other 20+ duck species in the Atlantic Flyway have had stable populations. Consequently, eastern mallards are no longer good surrogates for setting overall duck seasons in the Atlantic Flyway.
Sunrise over a decoy spread
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|Due to these circumstances, the Atlantic Flyway has developed a new harvest strategy for ducks referred to as "Multi-Stock AHM" that is being implemented beginning this year. Multi-Stock considers the collective population status of American green-winged teal, wood ducks, ring-necked ducks, and common goldeneyes when rendering a decision for annual regulations. These 4 species comprise about 60% of the Atlantic Flyway duck harvest, represent a wide-range of species life histories, and have expansive breeding and wintering distributions across both the breeding and wintering regions of the flyway.
The objectives of Multi-Stock are to:
1) Sustain Atlantic Flyway duck populations at levels that meet legal mandates and demands for recreational use, andMulti-Stock uses a model that considers the allowable annual harvest based on productivity and the carrying capacity of the habitat in the flyway for each of the species. For the 2019 duck hunting season, the Atlantic Flyway Multi-Stock process indicated that the liberal alternative of a 60-day season with a 6-duck bag limit was the optimal choice. New Jersey has been fortunate enough to have 60-day duck seasons since 1997.
Mallards will not be part of Multi-Stock, but will have their own harvest strategy similar to canvasbacks or pintails. Given the decline in eastern mallard abundance, all Atlantic Flyway states will see a bag limit reduction to 2 mallards with no more than 1 hen.
This year, the daily bag limit in New Jersey will be 6 ducks in aggregate and may not include more than 2 mallards (including no more than 1 hen), 4 scoters (in aggregate), 4 long-tailed ducks, 4 eiders, 3 wood ducks, 2 black ducks, 2 scaup, 2 redheads, 2 canvasbacks, and 1 pintail. The pintail bag limit was reduced due to a decline in the status of pintails and as directed by the harvest strategy adopted by all 4 flyways for pintail harvest management. Atlantic Flyway hunters will be happy to hear that the black duck bag limit will remain at 2 birds per day in 2019, although there is some question as to whether this 2-bird bag limit in the U.S. is sustainable for the long-term. The bag limit is 6 ducks for all other "regular" duck species. Merganser bag limits will remain at 5 birds per day with no more than 2 hooded mergansers. Merganser bag limits are in addition to regular duck bag limits.
The Division and the Fish and Game Council set annual season dates based on input from a committee of sportsmen from various organizations including the NJ State Federation of Sportsmens Clubs, NJ Waterfowlers Association, Ducks Unlimited, and Delta Waterfowl. Duck seasons in the North and South Zones will be similar to the past 2 years. The second split in the Coastal Zone will open Thanksgiving Day and run to the end of the Federal season date framework.
At the request of several Flyway Councils, the duck season framework was extended to January 31 beginning this year. The remaining 3 days will be held around the Veterans Day holiday. Given New Jersey's zoning alignment, and 2019-20 season selections, duck hunters who are willing to travel across zone boundaries can hunt 85 different days, including 15 different Saturdays, and 5 different Youth Days during the 60-day duck season.
2019-2020 Duck Seasons Table (pdf, 100kb)
The "regular" Canada goose seasons in New Jersey's North and South Zones are based on the status of Atlantic Population (AP) Canada geese which nest on the Ungava Peninsula of northern Quebec. The AP is New Jersey's primary migrant Canada goose population. After a period of population stability dating back to the early-2000s, the breeding population has declined for the past 3 consecutive years culminating in an 18-year low of 112,000 breeding pairs in 2018.
Poor gosling production due to chronically late Arctic springs appears to be driving the population decline. Gosling production has been below average for 7 of the past 10 years with 2018 being an unprecedentedly poor year. During most years, banding crews in northern Quebec band over 1,500 goslings annually and see thousands more. In 2018, those crews banded zero goslings, and observed less than 50 goslings. Due to this poor status, the "regular" Canada goose season will be reduced to a 30-day season with a 2-bird bag limit in the North and South Zones.
Because the Coastal Zone has relatively few band recoveries from AP Canada geese, it was re-designated as a North Atlantic Population (NAP) beginning in 2019. NAP geese nest in low density throughout the boreal forest of Labrador and Newfoundland and winter primarily along the Atlantic Coast from the Canadian Maritimes to North Carolina. The NAP harvest strategy calls for a 60-day, 2-bird bag limit in areas including New Jersey so the Regular Canada goose season in the Coastal Zone will occur concurrent with the duck season.
Resident Population (RP) Canada geese are overabundant throughout most of the United States and cause significant damage problems. As a result, additional hunting methods including the use of electronic calls, unplugged shotguns, extended hunting hours, and liberal bag limits are allowed during September hunting seasons. September seasons target RP geese since very few Atlantic Population or migrant geese arrive in New Jersey prior to October. Hunters need to remember that these special regulations only apply to the September Canada goose season (September 2-30, 2019). Hunters that choose to use unplugged guns during the September Canada goose season are reminded to reinstall magazine plugs before pursuing other game species.
Passing on the tradition
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Atlantic brant with tarsal band
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Since Atlantic brant breed in remote wilderness of the Canadian Arctic, their status is measured during the Mid-Winter Waterfowl Survey conducted in January on their Atlantic Flyway coastal wintering grounds. Although the brant population declined significantly during the early 2010s due to several successive years of poor young production on Canadian Arctic breeding grounds, brant fared much better during 2016 and 2017 and their population subsequently rebounded.
Unfortunately, similar to AP Canada geese, Atlantic brant experienced a record-poor production year in 2018 whereupon only 1.5% of the fall flight population was comprised of young birds; 18% young is average. The 2019 brant count declined 28% from last year with 120,100 brant estimated in the Mid-Winter Survey. Consequently, the brant season will be 30 days with a 2-bird bag. In the Coastal Zone, the allowable 2 brant season segments were timed to coincide with the popular hunting periods of Thanksgiving, and then reopening just after Christmas continuing until the last Saturday in January. Hunters should check the regulations carefully before going into the field during the duck season to be certain the brant season is open on any particular day.
Given that over 80% of Atlantic Flyway brant winter in New Jersey and New York, the Division initiated a 5-year collaborative Atlantic brant study with the New York Department of Environmental Conservation and the Canadian Wildlife Service last year. During the next two years, crews will continue banding brant with various markers to answer several questions on brant ecology.
More information can be found at:
Greater and lesser snow geese, as well as Ross's geese, are collectively referred to as "light" geese. Light goose populations remain high and biologists are concerned about the impacts light geese have on fragile Arctic nesting habitats. Serious damage to Arctic wetlands has already been documented in several key light goose breeding colonies. This damage impacts the light geese themselves, as well as other wildlife, such as shorebirds, dependent on the Arctic ecosystem. Serious damage to agriculture also occurs in migration and wintering areas.
Due to this overabundance, the Service is expected to again implement a Conservation Order (CO). A CO is a special management action, authorized by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act that is needed to control certain wildlife populations when traditional management programs are unsuccessful in preventing overabundance of that population. The CO allows an extended time period outside of traditional hunting seasons as well as additional methods for taking light geese without bag limits. The intent of the CO is to reduce and/or stabilize North American light goose populations that are above population objectives.
In the Atlantic Flyway, greater snow geese are the most abundant light goose population. The 2018 estimate, obtained by surveys in spring on staging areas of southern Canada, was 877,000 birds which is well above the population objective of 500,000 birds. During the past 10 years however, this population has shown a stable trend suggesting that liberal and special regulations implemented in both Quebec and the U.S., have stemmed the aggressive population growth that was occurring during the 1990s.
Due to the current large population size, the hunting season length for light geese will be the maximum allowed under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (107 days) with liberal bag limits of 25 light geese per day with no possession limit. In addition, a CO implemented in the spring will allow hunters to pursue light geese for the duration of the migration and wintering period. During the CO, special regulations will be allowed including the use of electronic calls, shotguns capable of holding up to 7 shells, extended shooting hours, and no bag limits. (The spring 2019 CO concluded April 6, 2019.)
YOUTH WATERFOWL HUNTING DAYS
Since 1997, the Service has allowed states to hold Youth Waterfowl Hunting Days on non-school days when youths have an opportunity to participate. Youth Days are held when waterfowl seasons are closed to the general hunting public. The objective of Youth Days is to introduce young hunters to the concepts of ethical use and stewardship of waterfowl, encourage youngsters and adults to experience the outdoors together, and to contribute to the long-term conservation of the migratory bird resource. Youth Days are a unique educational opportunity, above and beyond the regular season, which helps ensure high-quality learning experiences for youth interested in hunting.
New Jersey will hold two Youth Waterfowl Hunting Days in each zone. Each zone will have a youth day prior to the opening of the first split of the duck season (October or November) as well as an "end-loaded" Youth Day in February. Mentors willing to travel across zones could potentially take youths on 5 different hunting days. (2019-2020 dates found on the Take a Kid Hunting Program page.)
VETERANS AND ACTIVE MILITARY WATERFOWL HUNTING DAYS
Beginning this year, the Service will allow states to choose special hunting days for veterans and active duty military personnel to recognize their service to our country. New Jersey will hold these hunting season days concurrent with the special Youth Hunting Days. This will allow a unique opportunity for veterans and active duty military personnel to share a hunting experience with a youth family member, relative, or friend, or to hunt together with fellow veterans and military members. Information will be found in the 2019 Hunting and Trapping Digest, available online and at Division offices and license agents in August.
New Jersey has always been an important migration area for rails and woodcock. Some of the highest concentrations of sora in the US occur in New Jersey's tidal freshwater marshes that are dominated by wild rice. In addition, woodcock pass through New Jersey during fall with 50% of the state's harvest occurring in Sussex County and 25% in Cape May County. Although not nearly as popular as days gone by, New Jersey still has a tradition of "mud hen" or clapper rail hunting in early September along the Atlantic Coast.
Last year, at the request of the Atlantic Flyway Council, US Fish and Wildlife Service granted states with statutory Sunday hunting closures the opportunity to receive compensatory days for those lost Sundays for webless (non-waterfowl) migratory bird species. Due to this change, all hunting seasons for webless species, particularly notable for woodcock, will be longer.
All hunters pursuing migratory birds including ducks, geese, brant, coot, woodcock, rails, snipe or gallinules, are reminded to obtain a Harvest Information Program (HIP) certification. The process is the same as last year. Migratory bird hunters can get their HIP certification one of three ways: online by visiting the license sales web site, at any license agent, or by calling the toll-free NJ telephone sales line at 888-277-2015. The 2019-20 New Jersey migratory bird hunting season dates follow. Due to the earlier timing of annual regulation process, the NJ Migratory Bird Regulations leaflet is no longer published. Migratory bird regulations will be included in the 2019 Hunting and Trapping Digest and be available at Division offices and license agents in August.
Harvest Information Program (HIP) Certification Information
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