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THE OUTDOORS : Outdoor Notes : New Duck-Hunting Regulations Designed to Protect Birds

This will be a season of change for duck hunters, as the drought and declining waterfowl populations will mean lower limits and other restrictive measures designed to protect the various species when hunting season opens this fall.

For starters, Frank Dunkle, director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife, has suspended the point system, which he says was designed 25 years ago simply “to kill more ducks.”

The point system assigns each species a number of points, sometimes different for drake and hen, and setting the limit by number of points.

Since duck populations are near all-time lows, Dunkle said now is not the time to help inflate the kill.

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Another change in this fall’s regulations, expected to be officially issued by the Secretary of the Interior today, is the elimination of the 30 minutes of hunting time before sunrise each day.

Dunkle said the change in shooting hours is tied to the suspension of the point system.

Under a point system, he said, the hunter can shoot any bird, pick it up and figure the number of points it is worth. Under a conventional bag limit, he has to, in many cases, identify the bird before shooting.

“It seemed pretty important that you see what you were shooting,” Dunkle said.

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He said there is data to prove the 30 minutes before sunrise isn’t a significant factor in hunting and there’s also data to prove that most ducks are killed in that 30 minutes.

One species in particular trouble is the pintail, for which Dunkle has proposed a one-bird, either-sex daily limit throughout the regular season. This, he says, will allow some hunting and help protect the declining population, estimated to be a record low 2.58 million.

If pintail populations continue to fall, Dunkle said the next step is to close the season entirely, as is presently the case with canvasback ducks.

Dunkle’s goal is a reduction in the kill of at least 25% because of three years of drought in the country’s key duck production areas.

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Barring any last-minute change, the 1988-89 season may start no earlier than Oct. 8 and must close no later than Jan. 8.

The season will be 30 days in the Atlantic and Mississippi Flyways, down from 40, with a limit of three birds, down from four.

The Central Flyway will have a 51-day season on the high plains, down from 67 days, and 39 days on the low plains, down from 51 days, and the Pacific Flyway will have a 59-day season--66 in the Columbia Basin, down from 79 days.

Bag limits will be three birds in the Central Flyway and four in the Pacific Flyway.

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The states must set their seasons within the federal framework.

In Southern California, a spilt season will be in effect. The first half will begin Oct. 15 and continue through Nov. 9. The second half will open Dec. 7 and run through Jan. 8.

With the hurricane season winding down in the Cabo San Lucas area, fishermen are making reservations or preparing their private boats for a fall season that hopefully will include the catching of one of the sport’s jewels, the blue marlin.

And although most prospective visitors to the southern tip of Baja California are still in preparation, some are already there, finding the less crowded summer months to be worthwhile despite the relentless heat and frequent poor weather.

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According to John Doughty of Bisbee’s Tackle in Newport Beach, the many storms that have swept through the area--there have been 11 hurricanes or tropical storms in the vicinity so far this year--have apparently created a cycle that has blue marlin and various other exotic species moving into and out of the fishing grounds 5 to 10 miles offshore.

“There has been a lot of tropical weather, which has its positives and negatives,” Doughty said. “While the rain, wind and swells can curtail the fishing, when it clears there is usually warmer water in the area and with that comes the migratory warm-water fish.”

In recent weeks, about 30 hotel sportfishers have been accommodating these “off-season” vacationers, who as a whole have been catching about 12 blue marlin a day--in the 500-pound class--along with “numerous striped marlin, yellowfin tuna (in the 100- to 150-pound class), dorado and wahoo.”

The tropical storms, Doughty says, are making for water temperatures fluctuating between 80 and 88 degrees.

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Locally, Doughty says, the superb striped marlin bite has slowed somewhat because of strong currents that brought in off-color and cooler water, causing the fish to scatter.

“For a while they were gathered (mostly) in an area about 15 miles off Oceanside, where an area of warm-water was holding lots of bait,” he said. “Now the fish are in a more broadened area.”

Some of the most productive areas, according to Doughty, have been between San Clemente Island and Catalina, along the West end of Catalina, the Avalon Bank and the 14-mile bank off Newport Beach.

The Eastern Sierra buck hunting season opens Saturday and the Department of Fish and Game expects the deer to be concentrated near creeks, springs and ponds in Inyo and Mono county buck zones X12, X9a and X9b.

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All zones are holding less-than-desirable buck-doe ratios, according to the DFG, and the best chance of success will be “where good water and forage conditions prevail.”

The DFG has completed aerial planting of 300,000 golden trout at about 150 high-altitude Sierra lakes in six counties, in hopes they will grow to catchable size in the next few years.

Aside from the golden trout, 100,000 cutthroat trout fingerlings were dropped into small lakes nestled in tight, sheltered canyons at elevations bewtween 9,000 and 12,000 feet.

Long-range roundup: Most of San Diego’s three- and four-day fishing boats, which for the most part have been fishing the waters off the Baja California coast, have been loading up with yellowtail in the 10- to 20-pound class, and on some boats with good catches of small yellowfin tuna.

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Examples:

--The Polaris Supreme returned to port Sept. 2, with 20 anglers unloading 331 yellowtail--the biggest a 21-pounder caught by Los Angeles’ Ken Recson--104 yellowfin tuna, 2 dorado and 25 skipjack tuna.

--The Qualifier 105, with 20 anglers, returned Sept. 1 from four days at sea with 283 football-sized yellowfin tuna, 167 skipjack tuna, 27 yellowtail, 26 dorado and 1 black sea bass.

--The Royal Polaris returned Sept. 2, with 28 anglers who caught 372 yellowtail, 216 yellowfin tuna, 69 skipjack tuna, 32 dorado, 1 black sea bass and 58 calico bass. The biggest fish was a 25 1/2-pound yellowfin.

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Louisiana’s 17th consecutive alligator hunting season will open Saturday, with the state’s Department of Wildlife and Fisheries estimating a kill of about 12,500 alligators and hide prices running up to $44 a foot.

Tags are issued to land owners, who in turn distribute them almost entirely to professional trappers, who set big baited hooks in likely spots the night before the season opens, then haul in the alligators and kill them the next morning.

Last year’s hunt pumped about $10 million into the Louisiana economy, Ted Joanen, a fisheries biologist, said. Aside from the valuable skins, the meat has become valuable as a specialty item at Cajun restaurants.

In Texas, the season opened Sept. 2 and will close Sept. 18. Permits for 1,500 alligators were issued, and the rules for taking them are similar to those in Louisiana.

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Florida’s month-long season began Sept. 1. However, in that state’s first legal hunt in 26 years, no baited hooks or guns may be used. Instead, hunters will use unbaited hooks or nooses. Only 238 permits were issued for a harvest of about 3,600 of the state’s 1 million alligators.

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Entertainer Hank Williams Jr. will serve as honarary chairman of National Hunting and Fishing Day Sept. 24, established by President Nixon in 1972 to give recognition and appreciation to America’s hunters and fishermen for contributions toward conservation.

Guido Hibdon of Gravois Mills, Miss., a longtime tournament bass fisherman, won the Bassmasters Classic at Richmond, Va., with 28 pounds 8 ounces of bass caught and released over three days. Hibdon collected $50,000 for winning the tournament.

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