65th North American Wildlife and Natural Resources Conference 2000

Sea Duck Joint Venture Management Board March 23rd, Hyatt Regency O'Hare,

Illinois12:30-4:30 p.m., Pine Valley, International Level


Seaduck Specialist Group under Wetlands International and IUCN

Nov 1997 Nunavut Wildlife management Board Minutes

8.A.5 North American Waterfowl Management Plan Proposed Amendment

Mr. Gilchrist advised that a number of conservation organizations and management agencies, the Canadian and American Governments included, have begun pursuing a Seaduck Joint Venture (similar to the Arctic Goose Joint Venture) as an amendment to the North American Waterfowl Management Plan. Letters of support are being sought for this initiative.

The Board affirmed that seaducks, specifically eiders and oldsquaw, are an important group of birds for the residents of Nunavut. The Board also recognized that an initiative of the nature being contemplated could increase the political profile of these birds and might help garner new resources for their study and management. The Board decided to support in principle the development of a Seaduck Joint Venture for inclusion in the North American Waterfowl Management Plan. (Resolution 98- 061)

8.A.6 Migratory Birds Convention Amendments

Mr. Gilchrist reported that the Protocol is now awaiting the signature of the U.S. President. Once ratified by Mr. Clinton, the matter will need to be introduced to the Parliament of Canada. Once finalized, it will make provision to accommodate traditional harvesting by Inuit according to the Land Claim.

Seaduck Joint Venture Established News Release 09/99

Convention of Migratory Species


Sea Duck Joint Venture Prospectus

February, 1999


Executive Summary

The fifteen species of sea ducks (Tribe Mergini) constitute 42 per cent of the duck species breeding in North America yet are our most poorly understood group of waterfowl. Basic biological information is lacking for some species and there are few reliable population indices or estimates of annual productivity for any of the species. Since the NAWMP was signed in 1986, the eastern population of harlequin ducks has been listed as endangered by Canada, and spectacled eiders and the Alaska breeding population of Steller's eiders have been listed as threatened by the United States.

The issues/challenges facing managers include lack of knowledge on which to base management of sea ducks, habitat change on both breeding and wintering areas, environmental contaminants affecting survival and productivity, and the current inability to accurately measure harvest.

The large number of sea duck species, the vastness of their geographic range and the complexity of issues affecting their conservation, make sea duck management a daunting task, far beyond the capability of one agency or country. However, indicated population declines in 10 of the 15 species dictates that the task of sustainable management be addressed now.

A Sea Duck Joint Venture under the auspices of the NAWMP is the best vehicle to accomplish the information gathering and partnership building required to succeed.



Sea ducks (Tribe Mergini) are the most poorly understood group of North American waterfowl. There are fifteen species of sea ducks on the continent. Even the most basic biological information is unknown for some species. There are few reliable population indices or estimates of annual productivity for any species (Appendix 1. Summarizes known status). Surveys are not adequately designed to accurately estimate the harvest of sea ducks. Much of our knowledge is based on a very few, localized studies.

Sea ducks, in general, have evolved in relatively stable environments. Most species exhibit delayed sexual maturity and long life spans with low annual recruitment. For many reasons the environments inhabited by sea ducks are changing; many traditional wintering areas are now developed for human activities such as urbanization and industrialization. In other areas, breeding habitats are being lost or degraded. Thriving gull and other predator populations are placing increased pressure on annual production of a number of species. Indirect factors such as bioaccumulation of chemical contaminants could be negatively effecting survival and production in some populations. Only through a concerted effort to gain an understanding of how these factors interact can we hope to effectively conserve sea ducks.

Continentally, sea ducks represent less than 5 % of the total waterfowl harvest. This is one reason why sea duck conservation has historically been a low priority among waterfowl managers. Sea ducks were given no special consideration under the 1986 North American Waterfowl Management Plan (NAWMP). Although little data were available, most populations were thought to be relatively stable. Since 1986, the eastern population of harlequin ducks has been listed as endangered by Canada, and spectacled eiders and the Alaska breeding population of Steller's eiders have been listed as threatened by the United States.

In 1992, the Atlantic Flyway Council proposed that a sea duck joint venture be established. However, at that time there was no clear review of the status of these species, and the NAWMP committee deferred action on the recommendation. Since then several species specific as well as more general status reviews have been completed in various parts of the continent. By the 1994 update of NAWMP, concerns were being expressed over the lack of information on all species, as well as the status of several species and populations.

In 1997 the Canadian Wildlife Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the U.S. Geological Survey received endorsement from the NAWMP committee to proceed with the development of a sea duck joint venture. A scoping workshop was held in June 1998 which included participants from Canadian and American federal wildlife agencies, State and Provincial Governments, Atlantic and Pacific Flyway Councils, the academic community and Ducks Unlimited. This prospectus is based on the results of that workshop.






Problems and Issues

Historically, the logistic considerations of working on sea ducks, which breed at low densities in remote parts of the continent, have precluded efforts to gain adequate information on distribution and abundance and even the most basic information on population dynamics and other aspects of biology and ecology. For example, at the time of publication of Bellrose's Ducks, Geese and Swans of North America (1980), the fate of only one nest of the Surf Scoter had been determined.

Population Estimates

Historic population estimates for most sea duck species were based on wide extrapolations from limited surveys. Accurate determination of population trends for most sea duck species remains difficult as traditional waterfowl surveys are not designed to determine trends in non-target populations. Recently, the use of more directed techniques for sea ducks has resulted in more accurate population estimates for some species. Clearly, population estimates and monitoring techniques need to be developed and implemented for the conservation of sea ducks. Specific breeding, molting, migration, and wintering areas are poorly known for most species.

Population Dynamics

Critical to understanding the population dynamics of sea ducks is the expansion and refinement of the basic biological information base. The relative importance of factors affecting mortality of these birds is poorly understood and likely varies among species and populations. Most sea ducks are known to have long life spans and low annual productivity. Any factors which negatively affect adult survival and recruitment, especially those which may have intensified in recent years, need to be identified so that strategies can be formulated to effectively manage these species. Causes of documented and suspected declines are largely unknown.

Habitat Change

Sea ducks utilize very different habitats during their annual cycle. The non-breeding period (approximately 9 months) generally is spent in marine environments. During this period, sea ducks often are found in large aggregations that are vulnerable to threats. They occupy a wide variety of aquatic habitats, ranging from bays, lagoons, estuaries and deep ocean waters to large fresh-water lakes and rivers.

Catastrophic events such as oil spills can have major, long term impacts on localized wintering habitats in addition to directly killing birds. As petroleum development expands in far northern areas the potential for spills in breeding, molting, and migration habitats increases. Shoreline development for industrial and residential purposes and aquaculture also may negatively affect habitat suitability and availability. Recreational development on the offshore islands in Atlantic Canada and New England is a concern for both breeding and wintering common eiders. Forestry and hydroelectric development may affect the availability of suitable breeding habitat for scoters, goldeneye and harlequin ducks. Habitat destruction by overabundant snow goose populations may have implications for oldsquaw and king eiders.



Sustained Yield

While sea duck harvest occurs at lower levels than other waterfowl, their populations and reproductive potentials are also lower. Sea ducks are a significant component of subsistence harvest in the north and sport harvest opportunity remains relatively liberal in some jurisdictions. The impacts of harvest on sea duck populations need to be better understood and more accurate harvest estimates need to be developed.

Environmental Contaminants

Contaminants have been found in some sea ducks at concentrations that have been shown to affect survival and reproduction in other birds. Some sea duck species winter in some of the most industrialized bays and harbors in North America. Their longevity and dependence on benthic organisms make them susceptible to bioaccumulation of contaminants such as heavy metals. Direct mortality of Spectacled, Common, and Steller's Eiders has been documented from lead poisoning on Alaskan breeding grounds. Offshore oil production, oil spills and chronic exposure to low levels of petroleum contamination are important concerns for sea ducks on both coasts.


Why a Sea Duck Joint Venture?

A sea duck joint venture under the auspices of the North American Waterfowl Management Plan is viewed by the existing stakeholders as the best means of addressing the issues facing sea ducks because of: (1) the number and diversity of species involved and their broad geographic ranges; (2) the merits of coordinated programs in Arctic and coastal ecosystems which to provide opportunities to pool resources, staff and knowledge with aboriginal peoples, other agencies and industry living and working in those ecosystems; (3) the need for international cooperation to achieve conservation goals; (4) the cross-flyway and inter-provincial aspects of management; and (5) the success of the NAWMP model in bringing together public interests and supporting partners to accomplish needed work. The Joint Venture will facilitate review of species status and information needs based on current, available data and to set immediate research and conservation priorities. From that point the SDJV will then be able to develop a plan to refine our information base to better articulate long term conservation strategies for these waterfowl.



The sea duck joint venture will strive to maintain sustainable populations of North American sea ducks throughout their ranges.


The SDJV will promote the conservation of North American sea ducks through partnerships by providing greater knowledge and understanding for effective management.


The SDJV will endeavor to address the needs of all species of Mergini which occur in North America.

The focus of the joint venture will be sea duck populations in North America. However, partnerships with other circumpolar countries sharing these populations may be developed at the project level. Issues of both population dynamics and habitat quantity and quality will be considered. Information gaps will be prioritized for each of the 15 species.


The goals of the SDJV can be grouped under four broad categories: knowledge, communication, partnerships, and conservation actions.

1. The SDJV will facilitate and support the development of knowledge and understanding critical to sea duck conservation in North America by:

A. Defining and refining population segments for management.

B. Understanding the biology of sea ducks (both habitat and population events) throughout their annual cycles.

C. Consolidating existing information on demographics, population trends and migration routes.

D. Identifying and quantifying recruitment and mortality factors.

E. Identifying information gaps.

F. Prioritizing and coordinating research activities.

G. Promoting improvement of monitoring capabilities to address information needs.

H. Promoting innovative multi-disciplinary research and monitoring projects.

I. Designing a process for ongoing review of joint venture progress and direction.

2. The SDJV will increase the profile of sea ducks within the conservation, industrial, and scientific communities by:

A. Establishing a communication plan among existing partners.

B. Soliciting information and concerns from all potential stakeholders with emphasis on including aboriginal peoples.

C. Promoting communication within management agencies.

D. Identifying and communicating with people/corporations whose actvities affect sea ducks.

E. Reporting results on a timely and regular schedule.

F. Integrating communications with other NAWMP and Flyway efforts.

3. The SDJV will develop a program to involve the partners and resources needed to accomplish sea duck conservation by:

A. Identifying existing commitments and activities.

B. Developing non-traditional partnerships.

C. Maintaining and enhancing traditional partnerships.

D. Seeking new funding, resources and political support.

E. Recognizing partner contributions at all levels.

4. The SDJV will promote proactive conservation of sea ducks by:

A. Making management recommendations through the Board for consideration by appropriate agencies, habitat JV's, and landowners.

B. Working with and influencing the activities of industry/groups who affect sea ducks.

C. Promoting broader-based appreciation and ownership in sea duck resources to support sustainable consumptive and non-consumptive uses.

D. Supporting and integrating with other initiatives, both terrestrial and marine, having common goals.


Organizational Structure and Function

The SDJV will be guided by an international management board which receives technical advice from a continental technical committee and two coastal scientific coordinating committees. The Joint Venture will work to the maximum extent possible with existing NAWMP, Flyway, and agency structures to plan for and implement sea duck conservation.

SDJV Management Board

The Management Board will consist of a maximum of 18 members, nine each from the United States and Canada. Each country will independently select its members so as to be most responsive to its sea duck constituencies. The individuals and their agencies serving on the pro tem management board overseeing the development of the joint venture are listed in Appendix 2. The remaining seats will be filled by other stakeholders as new partnerships develop.

Role of Management Board:

1. Provides leadership and determines the official positions of the SDJV.

2. Develops and maintains overall strategy.

3. Facilitates implementation.

4. Provides linkage to NAWMP.

5. Develops new partnerships.

6. Reviews, endorses, and forwards recommendations for consideration by appropriate organizations.

7. Promotes the SDJV.

8. Periodically evaluates the progress of the SDJV.

Coastal Scientific Committees

Two Scientific Committees will be formed, one for each coast--Atlantic and Pacific. The Committees will be composed of SDJV member agencies and appropriate academic, non-governmental, and public interest groups, including species or issue-oriented project team leaders. Ad hoc project teams composed of existing or new working groups will address specific issues at the operational level. They will provide support for or conduct research, management and outreach and will serve as the cornerstones around which partnerships are built.

The Committees will function at two levels. The majority of the time they will function as two regional Committees dealing with western and eastern issues. Each Committee also will designate several delegates to a Continental Technical Committee.

Roles of Coastal Scientific Committees:

1. Develop draft status reports and management plans for individual species.

2. Promote partnership development.

3. Facilitate implementation.

4. Prioritize information needs.

5. Review and recommend endorsement of projects to the Continental Technical Committee.

6. Facilitate communication among project teams.

7. Provide technical information and recommendations.


Continental Technical Committee

Membership on the Continental Technical Committee will not total more than the membership of the SDJV Board. Members of the Technical Committee will be appointed by the Management Board from the two Coastal Scientific Committees. Each organization on the management board will have a representative on the Technical Committee. The Committee will convene annually to deal with continental issues.


Roles of Continental Technical Committee

1. Provide technical support to the Management Board.

2. Communicate issues and recommendations between Coastal Committees and the Management Board.

3. Develop draft Joint Venture strategic, implementation, and evaluation plans for Management Board review.

4. Coordinate Atlantic and Pacific activities and address issues from the midcontinent region (mostly arctic).

5. Recommend priorities at the continental level.

6. Promote partnership development.

7. Facilitate implementation.

Joint Venture Coordinators

The coordination of this multi-species and geographically diverse joint venture will require dedicated positions on the Pacific and Atlantic coasts. It is proposed that one be American, funded by the USFWS, and the other Canadian, funded by the CWS. The Pacific Coordinator (USFWS) is secretariat for the Pacific Coast Scientific Committee and the Atlantic Coordinator (CWS) is secretariat for the Atlantic Coast Scientific Committee. Both coordinators will provide support to the Continental Technical Committee and the Management Board. Coordinators will also facilitate information exchange with the Atlantic Flyway Technical Committee and the Pacific Flyway Study Commitee.


Funding for Sea Duck Joint Venture activities will be shared by government agencies, NGO's, industries and community groups with a stake in the well being of the sea duck resource and the marine environment. Initially federal, state, and provincial governments with the support of traditional non-government waterfowl partners will supply the funds and staff resources to undertake the necessary scoping exercises to produce status reports and identify information needs. The resulting project proposals will attract funding and human resource commitments from non-traditional partners such as aboriginal peoples, oil and gas, shipping industry and marine conservation groups, all of which have an interest in or an obligation to sea duck conservation.

Alaska Wild Animal Recovery Effort
Box 170, Homer, AK 99603
907-235-3877 (FAX) 907-235-5330