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August 21, 2003


The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection’s Division of Fish and Wildlife (Division) today announced 2003-04 migratory bird hunting season regulations.

“With most duck populations above their long-term averages, Garden State hunters will enjoy the seventh consecutive year with a liberal duck hunting season framework,” said Division Director Martin J. McHugh. “Sportsmen who are willing to travel will be able to hunt ducks in at least one of New Jersey’s three waterfowl zones from October 11, 2003 until January 24, 2004. If hunters also consider Canada geese, rails and snow geese, there will be potential migratory bird hunting opportunity available from September 1 through March 10."

“Habitat conditions from the traditional survey areas of mid-continent North America, critical to the reproductive success of waterfowl, exhibited an almost unique condition in 2003,” said Paul Castelli, supervising wildlife biologist with the Division’s Waterfowl Ecology and Management Program. "Although water levels on the prairies were low in late winter, spring rains on the breeding grounds brought the total number of ponds above the long-term average. In addition, duck populations and habitat conditions in eastern North America, where most Atlantic Flyway ducks are derived, were fair to excellent.”

Each year, hunting regulations for migratory birds are developed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) after input and consultation with the four Flyway Councils (Atlantic, Mississippi, Central and Pacific). The Flyway Councils provide state wildlife agencies with a formal mechanism to assist the Service with cooperative management of North America’s migratory bird populations. Duck hunting regulations are based on biological assessments, primarily regarding mallards, conducted within a process known as Adaptive Harvest Management (AHM). AHM was developed by the Service and Flyway Councils and brings more scientific rigor and objectivity to the regulation-setting process. During 2003, given the excellent status of most species of ducks, and particularly mallards, the AHM process suggested that a liberal duck hunting season in all flyways was consistent with the long-term welfare of North American waterfowl populations.

Although most species in the mid-continent region were near or above their long-term averages, the populations of pintails remain a concern to waterfowl managers. Although pintails increased 43% from 2002, they remain 39% below the long-term average. Atlantic Flyway states harvest only 4% of the continental pintail population and available data suggests that pintails harvested in the flyway are primarily derived from breeding areas that are not suffering from these dramatic population declines. As such, with the intent to keep hunting regulations as simple as possible without jeopardizing the pintail population, the Atlantic Flyway Council recommended to the Service that Atlantic Flyway states not be subjected to reduced pintail seasons. Ultimately, the Service rejected this recommendation and the pintail season was shortened throughout the United States. To help address the question of the breeding ground affiliations of eastern pintails, the Division, along with its Atlantic Flyway partners, plans to mark 20-30 wintering female pintails using satellite-tracked radio transmitters this winter.

Depressed scaup populations also remain a concern to waterfowl managers. Scaup have declined for 20 years and remain 29% below the long-term average. As a result, smaller bag limits of 3 scaup per day will remain in effect.

The daily bag limit in New Jersey will be 6 ducks and may not include more than 4 mallards (including no more than 2 hens), 4 scoters, 3 scaup, 2 wood ducks, 2 redheads, 1 pintail, 1 canvasback and 1 black duck. The pintail and canvasback seasons in New Jersey will be 30 days in each zone at which time the bag limit will be 1 bird. The pintail and canvasback seasons will be closed at all other times. The canvasback season will occur during the last 30 days in each zone. The pintail season will occur during the time of peak abundance of pintails and hunting activity in each zone. As such, the pintail and canvasback seasons may not run concurrently in each zone so waterfowl hunters are advised to check the regulations carefully before hunting.

A total of 157,000 breeding pairs of Atlantic Population (AP) or “migrant” Canada geese were estimated from surveys during June 2003 on the Ungava peninsula of northern Quebec. Although unchanged from the 2002 estimate, nesting conditions for AP Canada geese were excellent due to early spring phenology (the study of natural phenomena that recur periodically such as migration or blossoming, and of their relation to climate and changes in season). During surveys, a record high proportion of geese were observed as single birds indicating a strong nesting effort. Ground studies confirmed an excellent nesting year with high nest densities, larger clutch (brood) sizes and high nest success when compared with past years. This population has rebounded significantly from the low of 29,000 breeding pairs measured in 1995 and has increased at an average annual rate of 19% during the last ten years. (See Ecology and Research on Atlantic Brant for information on current research.)

Due to the generally good status of AP Canada geese, the regular season for Canada geese was maintained at a 45-day season with a 2-goose bag limit in New Jersey. Additionally, the 2003 September Canada Goose Season will be held on a statewide basis from September 1-30 with a bag limit of 8 birds per day. The Special Winter Canada Goose Season will be held January 26 to February 14, 2004 in two zones with the same hunt area boundaries as last year and a bag limit of 5 Canada geese per day. Both the September and Special Winter seasons are targeted at temperate-breeding or "resident" Canada geese that now number over 1 million birds in the Atlantic Flyway.

Since Atlantic brant breed in remote wilderness areas of the Canadian arctic, their status is measured during January surveys on the wintering grounds. Although brant declined slightly from last year, wintering surveys suggest that the Atlantic brant population has been increasing at an average annual rate of 3% per year over the last ten years. In addition, given the moderate to good young production expected in 2003, Atlantic Flyway states will have a 60-day season with a 3 brant bag limit. This scheme simplifies regulations for hunters, since the Atlantic brant season will run concurrent with the duck season in all zones.

Snow goose populations remain at high levels and biologists are concerned about the impacts snow geese have on fragile arctic nesting habitats. Serious damage to arctic wetlands has already been documented in several key snow goose breeding colonies. This damage impacts the snow geese themselves as well as other wildlife dependent on the arctic ecosystem. The season length for snow geese is already 107 days, the longest allowed under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. Bag limits will remain liberal this year with 15 snow geese per day and no possession limit.

Woodcock seasons in New Jersey have been 24 days since 1997. In the South Zone, three key periods of woodcock hunting activity and abundance exist. These periods include the opening of the small game season in early November, the Thanksgiving holiday period and the Christmas holiday period.

"Given the late date of Thanksgiving in 2003 as well as the federal constraint to split the season into no more than two segments, it became impossible to satisfy all three key harvest periods for woodcock in the South Zone," said Ted Nichols, Division Waterfowl Program biologist. Nichols added, "We examined historic data from 1986-1996 when woodcock seasons were 35 days and all three hunting periods were open and found that the woodcock harvest during any 7-day period in November greatly exceeded the 7-day period around the Christmas holiday in South Zone counties. Even in Cape May County, despite being renowned for its December woodcock hunting, we saw only half the harvest of woodcock that we saw during any period in November."

After viewing this data, the New Jersey Fish and Game Council decided to hold the majority of the South Zone Woodcock Season in November at the expense of days around the Christmas holiday period.

All migratory bird hunters must obtain a Harvest Information Program (HIP) number before hunting ducks, geese, brant, woodcock, rails, snipe, coots or gallinules in New Jersey. Hunters can get their HIP number simply by calling 1-800-WETLAND or by registering on the Division’s website at The phone call and HIP number are free. In addition, this system is operational 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Hunters need to have their hunting license ready when calling for their HIP number. After calling, the HIP number should be written in the space provided on the front of the hunting license. The HIP number is valid from September 1, 2003 until March 10, 2004. The information provided by sportsmen and women is confidential and will only be used by the US Fish and Wildlife Service for conducting migratory bird harvest surveys. Additional information on the status of waterfowl and habitat conditions can be viewed on the Service’s website at:

A link to the 2003-04 New Jersey migratory bird-hunting season dates is below. The 2003-04 Migratory Bird Regulations will be available at Division offices, license agents and sporting goods stores throughout the state, as well as this Web site, in September.

2003-04 Migratory Bird Regulations (70kb) - (PDF format, viewable with the Adobe Acrobat Reader, available free from Adobe's Web site).

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