Two Mallard Limit For Atlantic Flyway

Georgia duck hunters fortunate enough to have mallards will see a stricter limit next season.

GON Staff | November 15, 2018

Duck hunters in states that make up the Atlantic Flyway, including Georgia, South Carolina and Florida, will see the daily limit for mallards cut to two birds per day next season, according to recommendations from biologists. The current limit is four mallards a day.

The mallard limit will change to two birds (one hen) with the 2019-2020 waterfowl season for hunters in the Atlantic Flyway if the recommendations are approved. Those states are Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Vermont, Virginia, and West Virginia.

“In the past 20 years, eastern mallards have been on the decline,” according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS).

Spring surveys conducted in eastern Canada and the northeastern United States since 1998 show that numbers of nesting mallards in eastern Canada have not changed much, but they have decreased steadily in the northeastern U.S., declining by about 38 percent since 1998 (Figure 1).

“Based on banding data, about 60 percent of the mallards harvested in Atlantic Flyway states are northeastern U.S. birds, so that means there are fewer mallards available to Atlantic Flyway hunters in the U.S. now,” according to USFWS.

“This is reflected in harvest estimates from the annual USFWS survey of waterfowl hunters; from 1998 – 2016 the mallard harvest in the U.S. portion of the Atlantic Flyway has decreased by about 40 percent (Figure 3).

“To put this in perspective, eastern mallards are now only marginally more abundant than American black ducks in eastern North America. At this time, biologists are unable to pinpoint why the decline has occurred. Breeding population size in any year depends on how many birds from the previous year’s population survived the full year (survival rate), and how many young-of-the-year birds from the previous year’s nesting season made it through the winter and early spring (production rate).

“A long-term decline means that either survival or production (or both) is too low to maintain the population size. However, banding data indicate that eastern mallard survival rates are not measurably different now than they were in the 1990s, when the population was stable. Production estimates obtained from the USFWS Parts Collection Survey have not decreased from that time either. Yet the population decline is evident. This indicates a problem with either one or both of these critical data streams.”

The result for hunters is a mallard bag limit reduction from four to two.

“Based upon biologists’ present understanding of eastern mallard population dynamics, contemporary harvest rates from a 60-day season with a 4-mallard daily bag limit may result in harvest rates that are above a sustainable level. Thus, biologists are recommending that the mallard bag limit be reduced from 4 birds to 2, beginning in the 2019-20 hunting season,” said the USFWS. “Hopefully, this change will stabilize the eastern mallard population. Should the population start to grow again, biologists will have a better understanding of the effects of harvest on the population.”

Another change likely to come is how biologists from the Atlantic Flyway and USFWS will set duck season and limits. In the past, mallards were the primary benchmark species, even though mallards are not a primary species for duck hunters in most Atlantic Flyway states.

“Since 2000, the status of eastern mallards has been used to set the general duck hunting season frameworks (season length and total duck bag limit) in the Atlantic Flyway,” said the USFWS. “The declining trend in mallard population levels nearly resulted in the general duck season being closed or restricted to 30 days in recent years. Thankfully, mallard population levels were just high enough to avoid a closure or shortened season. Setting all duck seasons based on mallards’ status is no longer the optimal approach because most other important duck species in the Atlantic Flyway (such as wood ducks, ring-necked ducks and green-winged teal) are either stable or increasing while mallards continue to decline. By setting overall frameworks based on multiple important species, there is a greater chance of continuing more liberal frameworks in the Atlantic Flyway in the foreseeable future.

“Over the past five years, the Atlantic Flyway Council and USFWS have been developing a new approach to duck harvest management by using an Adaptive Harvest Management strategy based on the status of four species — green-winged teal, wood ducks, ring-necked ducks and golden-eyes — instead of relying solely upon the status of eastern mallards. By moving away from a reliance on mallard population status to set the general duck hunting season, the objective is to continue maximizing hunting opportunity commensurate with the population levels of a more representative suite of duck species that breed and are harvested largely within the Atlantic Flyway. Removing eastern mallards from the ‘driver seat’ for setting general duck seasons and bag limits, and managing them independently, is a more reasonable strategy at this time.”

Waterfowl managers are seeking to implement the new framework for setting general duck seasons for the 2019-20 hunting season and are currently soliciting comments from waterfowl hunters in Atlantic Flyway states.

Meanwhile, Georgia is getting plenty of rain right now, so the wood duck holes are filling nicely.

Georgia’s duck season dates for this 2018-2019 season are Nov. 17–25 and Dec. 8 – Jan. 27. Click here for more details.

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