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Hunting Regulations Icon Rhode Island Hunting

Changes in Black Duck Harvest Regulations

By Josh Beuth, Wildlife Biologist, RIDEM

American black ducks (Anas rubripes) are among the most prized species for duck hunters in Rhode Island. Found on inland rivers, ponds and marshes as well as coastal salt-marshes beginning in October, it’s not until cold weather moves in, freezing the inland waters and forcing the ducks to the open saltwater that hunters seek out and pursue black ducks.

Each year, on the coldest of days and during the most foul winter weather, Rhode Island’s waterfowl hunters carefully place their decoys along a selected piece of Rhode Island’s shoreline hoping for an opportunity to harvest one black duck. For seasoned waterfowl hunters, the prospect of being able to harvest only one black duck despite seeing and possibly even decoying dozens isn’t a deterrent but rather a reminder of how fortunate we are to live in an area that supports a relatively abundant wintering population of black ducks. Rhode Island’s coastline and saltmarshes provide critical wintering habitats that offer many opportunities for observation, photographing and hunting of American black ducks.

Since 1983, hunters have been restricted to harvesting 1 black duck per day. For the first time in 34 years, during the 2017-18 hunting season, waterfowl hunters will be permitted to harvest 2 black ducks per day.

Harvest Management Background

Changes in bag limits for migratory birds are not uncommon and often come as the result of new population information, updated management plans or revised strategies that guide decision making. The change in black duck bag limits is the result of new information, long term trends, and an updated analyses that together indicated bag limits could be increased without causing irreparable harm to the population.

Black duck harvest management is guided by an International Harvest Strategy that prescribes annual black duck hunting regulations for the United States and Canada. The three primary objectives of the harvest strategy are to: (1) Maintain a sustainable black duck population; (2) Maintain a robust black duck hunting tradition; and (3) Maintain the historical and relatively equal proportion of the black duck harvest between Canada and the United States.

Population Status

Since population surveys for black ducks were initiated in the early 1990’s, the long term average number of breeding black ducks exceeds 650,000 and the continental population has been stable for over 25 years. Since the late 1990’s estimated harvest has decreased from 300,000 birds per year to less than 200,000 birds per year. Despite liberalizing the daily bag limit from 1 to 2 birds, it is projected that the harvest will only increase about 33%. Population models used by biologists and managers suggest that the anticipated increase in harvest will not significantly affect the continental black duck population.

Monitoring Effects of Bag Limit Liberalization

Biologists and waterfowl managers will monitor the effects of the bag limit change on black duck harvest and population numbers and will continue to adopt harvest management strategies that strive to meet the goals of the International Harvest Strategy. Band recoveries reported by hunters provide biologists with data that allows them to estimate harvest rates or the proportion of the population that is taken through hunting. This information is critical for effective population management and hunters are encouraged to continue reporting banded birds that they harvest. While biologists and managers do not anticipate harvest to be significantly higher than predicted or to negatively impact the breeding population, if such impacts are detected, it is likely that future harvest policies will be more conservative, returning to a 1-bird bag limit for black ducks. It is unlikely that the liberalized 2-bird bag limit will result in a closed season in the immediate future.

Don’t Forget to Identify Your Target!

The Division of Fish and Wildlife reminds all waterfowl hunters to carefully identify the species of their intended target prior to pulling the trigger to avoid accidental over harvest and exceeding species specific bag limits. The Division’s Hunter Education program offers exciting and informative programs such as Waterfowl Identification workshops for novice and experienced waterfowl hunters to practice and hone their field identification skills. Check the Department’s website and Facebook page for updates!