To hunt or not to hunt: Avian flu leads to duck hunters’ dilemma

This column is an opinion piece by Gord Follett, former editor of Newfoundland sportsman. For more information on CBC opinion sectionplease see the Frequently asked questions.

Far from it I consider myself an avid waterfowl hunter. Even “serious enough” would be pushing it.

Since my last goose and duck hunt in Prince Edward Island about eight years ago, waterfowl hunting has been more of an incidental hunt for me, meaning I was looking for other small game like rabbits or grouse and came across some freshwater ducks or a couple of geese in a pond or ravine. It’s also been so long since I’ve ridden across the Atlantic Ocean hunting eider ducks and turrs.

In the last few months, though, I’ve been thinking a lot about duck hunting, specifically what some of my fellow die-hard duck and waterfowl hunters in general in Newfoundland and Labrador are going to do now that avian flu has become so rampant in these parts. Although it occurs infrequently, it can still pose a serious health risk to humans.

There is certainly a dilemma for us this year.-Peter Emberley, Hunter

Thousands of seabirds such as the guillemot (also known as turr), seagulls and gannets have come to our shores this summer; some already dead, others on the shores, dying slowly and it has been heartbreaking to see them. Some freshwater birds have also tested positive for the virus.

Local waterfowl hunters, perhaps the most passionate group of hunters, seem to be facing a big dilemma this year: will they keep hunting?

If so, will the birds they kill consume? Aren’t you worried about your own health?

I’ve talked to numerous duck hunters over the past few weeks, and while I wasn’t completely surprised, I was a little surprised to find that most of them, nearly 75 percent of the more than 90 I’ve contacted in the province as part of my mini-poll, they have every intention of continuing their favorite hunt again this year. (Freshwater duck and goose season begins Sept. 17, while start dates for eider ducks and other seabirds are typically October and November, depending on hunting areas.)

Two men dressed in camouflage hunting gear stand in the woods behind a camouflage-patterned inflatable raft, on which nine dead ducks are spread.
Peter Emberley Sr., right, and his son Peter Emberley Jr. display the results of a morning duck hunt on the Avalon Peninsula. (Submitted by Peter Emberley)

To hunt or not to hunt

“There is certainly a dilemma for us this year,” admitted Peter Emberley of St. John’s.

“The day before duck season we usually know as ‘Ducks Eve,’ just like Christmas Eve for the kids. It’s all we talk about. We breathe and sleep and dream of ducks and do the duck calls and start practice couple.weeks before its opening.This year, however, that sentiment is clouded by bird flu.

“It’s not the first time we’ve been warned, but it’s the first time dead birds have been seen in coastal waters all over the island. Many hunters are hesitant to hunt. I’ve heard some say they’ll hunt on opening day but not consume the birds. For me, that’s not an option. If I hunt, I can’t waste the bird. It goes against everything I believe in. If I don’t [plan to] eat it, I don’t throw it away.”

It was only in the last few weeks that Emberley made the decision to hunt this year, although she will take precautions.

“This disease seems to affect birds more in coastal waters than in our local ponds, lakes and ravines,” he said. That’s not to say it’s not inland as well, she added.

“I invested in a scooper that isn’t made of wood, so it can be thoroughly sanitized after each use. Birds will need to be handled very carefully once processing begins and again when it’s time to cook. We will scoop up please wear aprons and gloves long when we handle the birds, just to be safe.

Two brown ducks swim in the water.
Newfoundland waterfowl, including ducks from Lake Quidi Vidi, have tested positive for bird flu. (Submitted by Gord Follett)

season of uncertainty

Avid seabird hunter Blake Russell of Lewisporte, who is currently aboard a tanker in the Arctic for a period of work, will sail the Atlantic for ducks and turrs again next season, if there is an open season. for turrs and indications like I write this point to a season close.

“Most of the turrs and ducks we kill come from the north; it seems that most of the sick turrs on the northeast coast are from Funks [Funk Islands]Russell said.

“Usually we wait for the northern torrs anyway, which come later…and I haven’t seen any signs of sick eiders or torrs here in the Hudson Bay and Baffin area. If I was home, I’d be hunting torr this year but no I’d be a little more cautious I guess but I’ll definitely be hunting eiders when I’m free this winter.

Rob Stringer of Caplin Cove, Trinity Bay was looking forward to the next season, as always, but says his goose gun and trusty yellow Lab Molly won’t see much action in 2022.

“I just can’t take my chances with this bird flu,” he said, adding that at least five of his Voisey’s Bay co-workers feel the same way.

On the southwestern coast of Newfoundland, Mark Lomond, manager of the Duck Hunters of Newfoundland Facebook group, said he will “definitely” hunt ducks this year.

“All my friends say the same thing,” he added.

While this strain of H5N1 is more widespread this year, he said, “it has always been present to some degree in our local bird populations.”

Lomond’s main concern right now is not his own health but that of his chickens, he said, as he runs a small hobby farm and this strain of avian influenza is deadly to poultry. Aside from taking various precautions to protect them, he said, “everything else will be the status quo” regarding their hunting habits.

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