Friday, March 23 , 2018, 8:14 am | Fair 46º


Captain’s Log: Duck Counts Dive, Leaving Hunters, Anglers Stranded

Lower-than-average precipitation and the NorCal water wars may lead to dire socioeconomic effects.

It is many months yet until our waterfowl hunting season opens. In SoCal, that comes in October. Yet now is when our game managers are working hard to determine the condition of the waterfowl population and the health of their habitat in order to make sound decisions about seasons, bag limits, etc. Early aerial survey information is coming in.

Capt. David Bacon (Ramona Lisa McFadyen photo)

The news is not good this year. In California, the total population of all duck species is down 12 percent, from 627,600 last year to 554,000 this year. Mallards, the most common duck in the survey, are 20 percent below their long-term average of 370,300. The breeding population of mallards decreased 24 percent, from 388,300 in 2007 to 297,100 this year.

“Production of ducklings in 2007 was below average, so DFG (Department of Fish and Game) expected to see a decrease in the mallard breeding population in California,” said Shaun Oldenburger, a wildlife biologist with the Waterfowl Program. “Lower-than-average precipitation in the Central Valley over the past two years has contributed greatly to this decline.”

From an anglers perspective, and especially from the perspective of a charter fishing captain who can’t take passengers salmon fishing this year because of a population collapse and subsequent emergency closure, the water problem runs deeper than lower-than-average precipitation. It appears that many of our critters are suffering from the long-waging water wars of NorCal. With a lack of water and lack of funds to keep critter-friendly programs going, our fishing and hunting opportunities are severely affected. With that comes dire socioeconomic stresses on many of our communities.

Back to the birds. How are these aerial surveys performed, and how dependable are they? They may not be perfect, but tremendous effort is expended to do the best possible job with what they have to work with. DFG biologists and warden pilots have been conducting this survey using fixed-wing aircraft since 1955. The California Waterfowl Association, a contractual partner, assists the DFG by surveying a sample of transects by helicopter.

The population estimates are for the surveyed areas only, although surveyed areas include the majority of the suitable waterfowl nesting habitat in the state. These areas include wetland and agricultural habitats in northeastern California, the Central Valley from Red Bluff to Bakersfield, Suisun Marsh and Napa-Sonoma Marshes.

The DFG will put its survey data together with information from much broader-based surveys of Alaska, the north-central United States and Canada performed by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and be ready to make recommendations to the California Fish & Game Commission regarding this year’s waterfowl hunting regulations. Meanwhile, hunters spend the off-season cleaning their gear and hoping for the best.

Capt. David Bacon operates WaveWalker Charters and is president of SOFTIN Inc., a new nonprofit organization providing seafaring opportunities for those in need.

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