Will reg changes give Manitoba waterfowlers more access?
Big-game hunting regulations for non-resident foreigners are fairly universal across the Canadian prairies, with the use of an outfitter generally required. However, the hunting of waterfowl has been far less regulated. Currently in Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba, non-resident foreigners can hunt waterfowl without enlisting the services of a licensed outfitter. That’s because waterfowl, unlike big game, are viewed as a shared resource due to their migratory habits.
That doesn’t mean the practice has been without controversy, however, and all three jurisdictions have been looking at ways of better regulating visiting waterfowl hunters. On the one hand, resident hunters often complain about well-equipped foreigners, typically American, tying up many of the best hunting fields in an area, resulting in less access for them. On the other hand, outfitters would like to tap into this lucrative pool of foreign hunters, much as they have on the big-game side.
There have also been allegations of illegal outfitting by these non-residents, bringing up groups of hunters and getting paid under the table. There hasn’t been much proof of this, however, and nothing has come before the courts. Despite that, the Manitoba Government recently used such allegations as one of a suite of arguments to make sweeping changes beginning this fall to the province’s waterfowl-hunting regulations for non-resident foreigners—all to ostensibly improve access for locals.
Starting this fall in Manitoba, foreign non-resident waterfowl hunters (the province refers to them as “foreign residents”) will have three ways to access a licence. Currently, approximately 3,600 foreigners, mostly American, typically purchase waterfowl licences in the province each year.
First, do-it-yourself hunters can enter a draw between June 15 and July 15 for a seven-day Foreign Resident Migratory Game Bird Licence. This group of hunters will be able to continue to hunt as before without enlisting the services of an outfitter. A maximum of six hunters will be permitted to apply together.
For this first year of the draw, an unlimited number of licences will be available to familiarize hunters with the new process without instantly cutting off their opportunities. In the years that follow, however, the number of these licences will be capped, based on licence sales, hunter questionnaires and stakeholder input.
Alternatively, foreigners can go through outfitters, who will receive an allocation of seven-day licences to sell to clients using their services. The number of these licences, however, will be capped at the average number of hunters that outfitters were taking prior to the COVID-19 pandemic travel restrictions.
Finally, a third group of licences will be allocated through what the province is calling a Foreign Resident Legacy Migratory Game Bird Licence. This will allow qualifying foreign landowners or lessees of Crown land to obtain licences as they have in the past. This opportunity is grandfathered, however, and applicants must have held a licence within the previous five years. They must also have been a registered property owner prior to September 1, 2022. No new private hunting operations will be permitted to begin in Manitoba going forward.
While Manitoba residents and outfitters are pleased with the news, non-residents were initially less receptive. Ducks Unlimited sent a letter to the Minister of Natural Resources and Northern Development, Greg Nesbitt, expressing its displeasure, asking him to reconsider the changes. DU’s argument focused primarily on waterfowl being a shared migratory resource and the amount of money the organization has spent on conservation in Canada. Delta Waterfowl has taken a more neutral approach, saying it realizes it has members on both sides of this discussion. Concerns have since been somewhat assuaged, however, with it now clear that foreign hunters will at least not be forced to use the services of Manitoban guides and outfitters, as was originally thought.
In the end, was the impetus for these changes a case of a few bad eggs—illegal non-resident outfitters—ruining it for everyone, or was it because of a more endemic problem plaguing hunting across the prairies? There’s little question hunting access is the number one concern among resident hunters, with non-residents tying up prime hunts, but are the new regulations likely to change that? I honestly doubt it, but as with most hunting regulation changes these days, it’s more about optics than science.
Western view is an opinion column. We invite constructive discussion of the various issues raised here.