Suffice it to say, the current shortage of eider ducks along Maine’s coast was discussed at length during a recent meeting of the Gouldsboro Point Good Times Rod and Gun Club. Embellished with servings of steaming beef stew and biscuits hot from the oven, the gabfest began with Galen Ruhlin stating that he had never seen eiders so scarce.
“We gunned around Flanders Bay last week,” said the veteran sea duck hunter and guide, “and saw more coots than eiders. So where have they gone all of a sudden?”
“Massachusetts,” said Brad Allen. The wildlife biologist, who directs the Department of Inland Fisheries & Wildlife’s bird group, said an Audubon survey reported an estimated 350,000 eiders rafting along the Massachusetts coast. Brad allowed that about 20-25 percent of those ducks were native Mainers, thus prompting game warden Dave Simmons to say that, in two days of huddling on ledges, he and his hunting partners shot one eider. That said, warden Bailey Grant allowed that sea duck hunters were saving money on shotgun shells. Though warden Jim Fahey’s regular assignments keep him out of the sea duck loop, he enjoyed the related verbal gunning and the outdoorsy comfort of Galen’s log lodge. With the eider issue eventually shot to shreds, the group appreciated Corey Smith’s insightful comments about local inland game populations.
And so it went. Naturally, commercial fishing will be blamed for the absence of eiders, the contention being that draggers have depleted the ducks’ feed — primarily mussels and other shellfish. Likewise, it will be said that the pressure of guided sea duck hunts has driven the birds away. Personally, I don’t buy either argument. Think about it: The banks and shoals along the Massachusetts coast are fished by a large fleet of draggers, and sea duck guides can’t rig enough decoys to attract big flocks of eiders. As for weather, it would have to be worse than the wrath of God to affect the stalwart sea ducks.
So, what’s the answer to the eider duck enigma? Nobody knows for sure. For now, at least. On the other hand, though, maybe it’s better not to know. Maybe it’s better to wonder and ponder and just think we know, while we wait for Mother Nature’s pendulum to swing.