March 07, 2023
For decades, American waterfowlers have had free reign to freelance the prairies or go with a guide in search of fowl in the provinces of southern Canada. An adventure that has become for many, a rite of passage and a bucket list, hunt-of-a-lifetime quest to head north of the border for some of the best ‘fowling on the planet. Aside from restrictions over COVID-19 and the ongoing bird flu blitz in the past couple of years, that “free and easy” access pass has remained open—until now.
Due to rising conflicts and competition between resident and foreign resident waterfowl hunters in Manitoba, the government of Manitoba is planning to enact changes to their waterfowl hunting regulations to reduce the number of non-resident hunters by 20 percent and boost the economic potential for their licensed waterfowl outfitters by 55 percent. Foreign resident ‘fowlers will now be limited to a total of only 2,900 licenses, increased fees, and a lottery system for a non-outfitted license.
This translates to reduced opportunity for Americans seeking to hunt in Manitoba. There is also some speculation whether Alberta and Saskatchewan may follow suit in the coming years, making it much harder for Americans to waterfowl hunt anywhere in the Canadian prairie pothole region.
Back in May and June of 2022, the province of Manitoba drafted a brand-new regulatory plan they are calling “Waterfowl Hunting Modernization in Manitoba” in an effort to restructure how the province prioritizes resident waterfowl hunting opportunities and supports their network of licensed guides and outfitters. According to the proposal, which is set to go into effect on April 1, 2023—no April Fools’ joke here—the plan is designed to “promote sustainable tourism in Manitoba by providing stability for the waterfowl outfitting industry, support value-added services provided through licensed tourism operators, and redistribute competition for access to dwindling hunting areas.”
The plan seeks to reduce the number of foreign resident hunters and boost the outfitter industry by “implementing a new seven-day foreign resident migratory game bird license to be purchased either through a licensed Manitoba waterfowl outfitter or through a license draw process. This would provide the province with a mechanism to control the number of foreign resident licenses made available.”
The plan also cites how the “Manitoba Wildlife Federation (MWF) and the Manitoba Lodge and Outfitter's Association (MLOA) have indicated that increased competition for hunting areas is eroding the quality of the hunting experience for residents, and negatively affecting outfitting businesses and the hunting experience of their clients.” And while many Manitoban hunters are happy to share, “Manitoba’s resident waterfowl hunters cannot compete with the commercialization and aggressive tactics for land access to prime hunting areas that has become normal in other continental jurisdictions,” the plan states.
The harvest reports show how Canadian hunters are disproportionately represented and at a disadvantage against foreign ‘fowlers. According to their reports, “foreign hunters now account for over 50 percent of annual provincial duck harvest, while only purchasing one third of annual game bird licenses.”
You may wonder whose interests are at stake in this Prairie Pothole pandemonium. The proposal states there are approximately 60 active Manitoba waterfowl outfitters who facilitate an average of 1,200 hunters per year, the majority of whom are American. According to a 2020 study, Manitoba generated $212M in hunting-related revenue, of which $165M (78 percent) came from contributions by resident hunters, prompting government officials to enact this progressive plan to protect their tourism-based hunting economy along with their resident hunters and outfitters.
Prairie Pothole Pushback
This news is very unsettling to American and other non-resident waterfowlers who have been supporting the Canadian provinces with annual pilgrimages to chase ducks and geese each fall.
In a letter to the Manitoba Minister, dated October 7, 2022, Ducks Unlimited CEO, Adam Putnam urged against adopting the new regulations, stating the changes would “create a huge disincentive for U.S. waterfowlers to travel to Manitoba every year to enjoy the natural resources, support rural economies, and contribute to conservation in Manitoba.”
While Putnam supports the goal of increasing resident waterfowl hunters in Manitoba, he believes the proposed changes are not likely to achieve the goal. He mentions that with long-term declines in both resident and non-resident hunter numbers, the data does not suggest how reducing American hunters would stimulate an increase in resident hunters, and could potentially create a “lose-lose” situation for all parties.
Putnam states how important American hunters are to the economy of Canada and “welcomes the opportunity to collaborate with other stakeholders to develop and support policies to effectively expand and enhance access for waterfowl hunting in Manitoba while addressing specific concerns about access for resident hunters.” He believes that passing these new regulations would undermine the strong foundation of support necessary to achieve collective conservation goals and jeopardize this longstanding and highly successful model for funding conservation in Manitoba and across Canada.
New Regulations For Non-Resident Waterfowlers
According to the proposal, the new changes are slated to go into effect on April 1, 2023. Foreign hunters heading to Manitoba should expect to:
- Obtain a migratory game bird license ($175.25);
- A foreign resident will be able to apply for the new provincial migratory game bird license through a new license draw process or by purchasing directly from a licensed outfitter with a waterfowl allocation.
- This license will be valid for a seven-day period chosen by the hunter during the migratory game bird season.
- Pay the allocation fee ($100.000) for the license, if sold by a licensed waterfowl outfitter; or,
- Pay the draw license application fee ($11.50).
CLICK HERE to read the full proposal
If you’re worried Alberta and Saskatchewan may follow suit, we can’t say for sure whether or not it will happen, but according to their proposal, “Manitoba has had informal discussions with Saskatchewan and Alberta regarding waterfowl hunting access issues. They are interested in the approach Manitoba is proposing but have not identified any plans to make similar changes in the near future.”
If you’re looking to hunt in Manitoba and you’re not from the province, you need to start paying attention now. Under the new regulations, there will be a limited 2,900 foreign resident migratory game bird licenses available. Looking to hire one of the 60 licensed Manitoba waterfowl guides? Give them a call soon as there will only be 1,200 total foreign resident licenses available through these licensed outfitters. Feeling fit to freelance as a foreigner? You’ve got a one in 1,300 chance of drawing your ticket through the proposed lottery system. The remaining 400 foreign resident licenses will be allocated for non-government and conservation organizations and for individuals who hold historic hunting properties under the new provincial regulations.
Stay tuned to Wildfowl for additional updates as we get closer to the 2023 waterfowl hunting season.