Minnesota duck hunters likely will see another 60-day, six-duck bag limit season this fall.
But a rift between state and federal officials over bluebill and canvasback regulations sharpened last week as representatives from 14 states on the Mississippi Flyway Council -- including Minnesota -- met in Tennessee to discuss the upcoming season.
At the meetings, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's Migratory Birds Division recommended restrictive bluebill regulations, which for Minnesota likely would mean a one-bird daily bag during the 60-day season, or perhaps a two-bird daily bag with a 45-day season for bluebills, also called scaup. Last year, there was a two-bird bluebill bag.
But the 28-member flyway council disagreed and unanimously recommended that the federal agency retain the 60-day, two-bird bluebill season, said Steve Cordts, Minnesota Department of Natural Resources duck specialist.
The Fish and Wildlife Service's regulations committee will meet this week to make final duck season recommendations to director Dale Hall. Hunters should know this week or early next week what regulations they'll face in the duck blinds this fall.
What's likely to happen with the bluebill dispute?
"I honestly couldn't tell you," Cordts said. But he said he thought the states made compelling arguments.
Cordts sits on the Mississippi Flyway Council and its technical committee and has questioned the need to restrict the bluebill harvest. Though the bluebill population has been on a longterm decline, it appears to have stabilized in recent years.
He and others say a one-bird bag limit leaves little room for error for hunters, because it is very difficult to distinguish between bluebills and ring-necked ducks, both of which often are found intermingled. There was a six-duck bag limit for ringnecks last year.
Critics fear some hunters will simply quit hunting out of frustration.
State and federal officials also disagreed sharply over canvasbacks. The Fish and Wildlife Service recommended a closed canvasback season, because spring surveys showed the population down. But the flyway council recommended a one-bird daily bag limit, Cordts said. (Last year, Minnesota hunters could shoot two canvasbacks.)
Again, state and federal officials disagreed on population surveys, which showed the canvasback population down significantly this spring.
The flyway council also recommended a three-bird daily wood duck bag limit, one more than last year. Mallard numbers remained stable, and federal officials likely will offer states a four-bird daily bag, with no more than two hens. Minnesota is likely to retain a one-hen restriction.