Will We Get a Four-Bluebill Limit for 2012-2013?

Any day now the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) is expected to release the most highly anticipated waterfowl season framework in years. Why the added attention? There is rumor and speculation that the limit on scaup will increase to four ducks in all flyways except the Pacific, which may jump to a whopping five-scaup limit (some say the Central Flyway also has a shot at the five-duck limit—who knows, it's all conjecture at this point).

I say it's about time. The bluebill population estimate has increased for seven consecutive years; bluebills are up 21 percent over 2011 and 4-percent above their long-term average. And many argue that the USFWS' own scaup harvest management plan indicates the population is sufficient to increase the limit.

Diver hunters have long asked for an increased scaup limit, so last year I asked John Devney, senior director of American policy for Delta Waterfowl, for his thoughts on the matter. Turns out Delta was never in favor of lowering the bluebill limit to two ducks daily (and briefly just one duck daily) in the first place.

"We took great exception to the scaup harvest model [used by the USFWS to determine the new limit] and therefore to the results," Devney said. "Hunting was not impacting scaup populations, but since the population was declining at the time, the USFWS felt the need to 'do something' ... The scaup population can sustain an increased limit."

The ramifications that doubling the scaup limit would have for duck hunting cannot be overstated. Diver hunting is a tough, specialized form of waterfowling that requires more equipment and, arguably, more effort than hunting pothole mallards. When the limit was lowered to one bluebill (at the time you couldn't shoot a single canvasback either), a lot of waterfowlers gave up hunting or pursued deer instead. When the limit was raised to two bluebills, only a few returned to the sport. Additionally, it's challenging for a young or novice duck hunter to discern a bluebill from a ringneck or even a goldeneye or other diver—for many hunters, two bluebills in the boat means they're done for the day, less they risk going over the limit. How do you convince a young hunter to get up at 4 a.m., erect a huge diver spread and fight pounding surf all morning for two ducks?

And when duck hunters give up the sport or youngsters decide not to enter into it, it takes away conservation dollars that could've been used to study and improve bluebill habitat. 

Let's hope the rumors are true and that the USFWS increases the scaup limit. Doing so would be good for duck hunters, good for the waterfowling tradition, and good for ducks.

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