Mississippi likely to keep liberal regulatory schedule for next waterfowl season

Published 4:37 pm Thursday, February 2, 2023

JACKSON — Waterfowl season ended Tuesday and soon it will be time for biologists to conduct surveys on waterfowl and breeding grounds this summer. The reports will be included in the Adaptive Harvest Management report and will aid flyway councils in recommending a season framework for 2024-2025.

Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks will soon receive federal frameworks for the 2023-2024 waterfowl season based on the AHM published in August 2022. MDWFP will be able to choose season dates to comply with the federal frameworks. 

Houston Havens, waterfowl program coordinator for the MDWFP, said based on the AHM report published in August, the Mississippi Flyway Council recommended a liberal regulatory schedule which is a 60 day season with six ducks per day for 2023-2024. 

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While some duck populations have seen decline compared to the long term average, teal have seen an increase. Specifically, blue-winged teal have seen a 27 percent increase against the long term average with an estimated population of 6.5 ± 0.3 Million according to the most recent AHM report. Green-winged teal were at 2.2 ± 0.02 Million and are at a steady population against the long term average. Havens said he does not expect the early September teal season to expand. 

I suppose there is potential for a future expansion of the special teal season, but there have not been serious discussions about any changes to my knowledge,” Havens said in an email. “A few years ago, the Mississippi Flyway did get the option to increase the teal bag limit from 4 to 6 birds per day during the September season, and Mississippi did take advantage of that allowed increase.”

Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza struck hard and heavy to start the 2022-2023 season. Mississippi and Louisiana started out the waterfowl season with increased reports of the disease. The states have since gone a month of not positives from their last positives for HPAI in December. Mississippi had 188 birds test positive for HPAI this waterfowl season and Louisiana had 92. 

Those numbers are a lot less than reported figures for commercial and backyard flocks of birds. The US Department of Agriculture reports 58.2 million birds in commercial and backyard flocks were affected by HPAI. Havens said they do not expect to see any population-level impacts due to HPAI. 

“Season dates and bag limits for waterfowl are driven by surveys of breeding populations and breeding habitat conducted during May each year. So, if there were significant impacts to duck populations from HPAI, those would be reflected in the breeding population survey results later this spring and summer,” Havens said. “We started off the fall with a lot of calls about sick or dead birds, but fortunately things have slowed down since then.” 

HPAI cases spike

Havens was correct in calls about dead waterfowl or sick birds slowing down but Mississippi had an influx of 43 positive cases stream in on February 2, 2023. The USDA reported 42 positive cases for HPAI in black vultures samples from January 18 to January 26 in Clay, Jones, Jasper, Issaquena and Rankin Counties.

One red-tailed hawk tested positive for HPAI and was located in Winston County. All new positives were found dead or dying and were not hunter harvested.