Thursday’s debate among the six Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries Commission members went on for more than an hour, and public comment added nearly another hour before the LWFC voted to open the state’s Coastal Zone waterfowl season on the first Saturday in November, eight days earlier than the zone opened last season.
Despite the lengthy discussion, the season dates were approved by a 4-2 vote with chairman Pat Manuel of Eunice and Dan Davis of Houma dissenting. Ronny Graham was absent.
It means the state’s 2015-2016, three-zone, 60-day, duck hunting dates are Nov. 7-Dec. 6 and Dec. 19-Jan. 17 in the Coastal Zone; Nov. 14-Dec. 6 and Dec. 19-Jan. 24 in the West Zone; and, Nov. 21-Dec. 6 and Dec. 19-Jan. 31 in the East Zone.
Special youth-only duck hunting dates will be Oct. 31-Nov. 1 in the Coastal Zone, Nov. 7 and Jan. 31 in the West Zone and Nov. 14 and Feb. 6 in the East Zone.
The vote also took the unprecedented move to divided the Coastal Zone’s hunting days evenly between the first and second splits for the first time in the 19-year run of the state’s 60-day, 6-ducks-per-day duck-season framework.
The dates also apply to taking coots, a species known across south Louisiana as “poule d’eau.”
The move to a Nov. 7 opening date in the Coastal Zone ignored a preference by Coastal Zone hunters to have later seasons to take ducks. That preference was revealed in a postseason survey conducted by the Department of Wildlife and Fisheries after the 2014-2015 season. The survey showed slightly more than 20 percent of Coastal Zone hunters preferred a Week 1-November opener compared to near 40 percent for the following November week and for later January hunting opportunities. Commission member Chad Courville of Lafayette offered the move to the earlier Coastal Zone dates.
The daily bag, as set by the Mississippi Flyway Council and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, limits the take of mallards to four per day, of which only two can be mallard hens, three woods ducks, three scaup, two redheads, two pintails, two canvasbacks and one each mottled duck and black duck. The limit on canvasbacks is an increase of one per day from the 2014-2015 season limitations and was because of increased numbers of the species in the May Breeding Count estimate.
Other major changes in the waterfowl seasons included a cut in the state’s daily bag on Canada geese to one after a three-bird limit last season, and an election to have an 81-day season on specklebellies with a bag limit of two per day. And earlier USFWS announcement gave the state the option of keeping the current 74-day, two-specklebelly season, or choosing an 88-day, two-bird or a 74-day, three-bird format. Depending on the method, the state waterfowl survey also showed between 42 and 50 percent of the hunters favored the 74-day, three-bird option. Commission member Bart Yakupzack of Lake Charles championed the 81-day, two-bird season amendment.
USFWS data showed the effective harvest rates between the two new options would have the same effect on the specklebelly population, which, State Waterfowl Study leader Larry Reynolds indicated, has been on a slight, percentage-points decline in the state during the past 15 years.
Other seasons approved Thursday included dates and bag limits for blues, snows, Ross’, specklebellies and Canada geese, Conservation Order periods on blue, snow and Ross’ geese, the 107-day snipe season, and 54 remaining days of a 70-day period for taking rails and gallinules after an open season on the latter two species coming in the special Sept. 12-27 teal season.
Other commission action included:
Approving a notice of intent to set rules for the Northwest Louisiana and the Saline Lake game and fish preserves;
Recognizing the Tchefuncte River Foundation River Clean-up program for removing 91 abandoned boats and other structures from the river from its mouth to waters in the Madisonville area;
Learning that Enforcement Division agents issued 555 citations and 552 written warnings during July;
Learning there were 13 boating accidents, five injuries, but no boating fatalities during July;
Learning that commission member Ed Swindell of Hammond will resign from the commission next week to take one of three Louisiana spots on the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council;
And approving its December meeting for Dec. 3 in Lake Charles at a time and location to be determined.