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Proposals to Modernize Canada’s Migratory Birds Regulations to Improve Management of Hunting - March 2014

2. Possession and Abandonment of Migratory Birds

2.1 Regulating possession


Setting limits for possessing birdsFootnote 1 taken in hunting was originally intended as a way to regulate harvest.Footnote 2 Possession limits were first introduced in Canada in 1931, during a period when fall flights and breeding populations were diminishing because of prolonged and severe drought. The limits have remained in place since that time and apply everywhere, with the exception of residents of the Northwest Territories and Nunavut because of the very low harvests in those regions.

Even though possession limits are seen as an important part of the Regulations, they are not considered to be the primary way to regulate the harvest of migratory game birds. Rather, the manipulation of daily bag limits,Footnote 3 the timing of seasons (open and close dates), and the length of open season have significantly more influence on limiting the harvest of most species. These--along with the time, effort and costs associated with processing, transporting, labeling, and storing the birds--are the factors that actually exert control on the harvest.

In reality, imposing possession limits usually does not result in the intended conservation benefits for several reasons: hunters can consume harvested birds rapidly, allowing renewed opportunity to hunt; the current regulations contain provisions that allow unlimited gifting of game birds from hunters to their friends and families (the gift recipients are bound by the possession limit as well), resulting in a potentially unlimited take over the course of a season; and the vast majority of hunters never succeed in harvesting a full possession of birds in a single hunting season. For all these reasons, possession limits do not represent an efficient tool for controlling harvest.

The problem

Possession limits--as they are conceived at present--do not result in the conservation benefits or control of harvest as originally intended. They add complexity and uncertainty, and appear to be enforceable in only limited circumstances.

On the other hand, there are other functions served by possession limits; in some circumstances, they may contribute to prevention of wastage, maintain the perceived value of the resource and help to prevent illegal commercialization. Also, there are circumstances when some form of a possession limit is needed to control harvest, especially when there is a strong concern for conservation of a species.

On balance, possession limits have a place in the Regulations, but they need to be clarified, simplified and modified to maximize their relevance and usefulness.


The table below presents a range of optional approaches to improve management of possession of migratory birds taken in hunting. The objective is to achieve “yes” in each cell.

Table 2.1: Possession options
Objective of a possession limit
Harvest controlMaintain resource valueEncourage use of birds takenPrevent wastageHelp to prevent illegal commercial-izationCost-effective for govern-ment
1: Status Quo – each bird taken counts in the possession limit until used, given away or disposed ofMinorMostlyNoNoNoYes
2: Quota System – each bird taken counts until next seasonYesYesNoNoYesNo
3: Each bird taken counts in the possession limit only until it is “processed”NoYesYesNoNoYes
4: Each bird taken counts only until it arrives at a residence (also known as a “field possession limit")NoMaybe notNoNoNoYes
5: No possession limitNoNoNoNoNoYes

Recommended solution – Combination of Options 2 and 3

No single option addresses all objectives on its own. For this reason, the Canadian Wildlife Service is leaning toward including both Options 2 and 3 as tools in the Regulations, to be triggered when appropriate and, in addition, incorporating a prohibition against wastage (described further in the following Section 2.2). In this way, all objectives would be addressed.

Under this approach, all species would be managed according to one of two tools provided by the Migratory Birds Regulations: the possession by a person of a migratory bird would be managed either by a possession limit or a quota system. Species would be managed by a possession limit in effect until processed (as described in Option 3), except in the rare future case when the available harvest is very small, such that the quota system (Option 2) could be triggered.

Key  Messages

The main difference between the status quo and the recommended option

The main difference from the current regulations on possession limit is that, under the new proposal, once birds are processed they would no longer count as part of an individual’s possession limit.

In addition, a quota system is being considered as an alternative to manage harvest when a daily bag limit of even one bird would lead to excessive harvest.

Definition of the “possession limit” under the recommended option

The possession limit would be the number of birds of a species that a person may have in his or her possession at any given time and in any given place. This would include at the hunting site, at home or on the road, or labeled and in the temporary custody of someone else. The possession limit would be in effect only until those birds are processed.

The daily bag limit would still apply, even if birds are processed on the day that they are taken.

Definition of “processed”

Under the revised concept, a bird would be considered “processed” once it was:

  • Preserved for future use; that is, when the viscera are removed and the bird is fully plucked or when the edible portions are removed from the carcass and it is frozen, cooked, canned or smoked; or
  • Made into a processed food such as sausages or jerky; or
  • Mounted for display--for example, by a taxidermist.

Where birds could be processed

The processing would have to occur at a residence (either permanent or temporary, which includes a hunting camp or hotel) or at non-mobile processing facilities. To retain enforceability of the daily bag limit--which is the key harvest control--processing birds while still in the field would not be allowed unless the birds are being eaten immediately at that location.

Definition of “quota system”

A quota system would be used only when there was a very strong need to control a limited harvest. For example, if there were a limited harvest available for a particular species, such that even a daily bag limit of one bird could lead to excessive harvest, a quota system could be used to cap the number of birds harvested.

The quota system is seen as a potential tool for future, but not immediate, use. The system could take various forms. It might, for example, be a limit on the number of birds that could be taken during one season; it could be a system to limit the number of hunters managed by tags; it might take the form of registration (a 1-800 number); or it could be managed by hunter check stations in specified areas.

The concept of a quota system is familiar to most hunters; for example, provincial governments routinely use a tag system to manage the hunt of deer.

Objectives addressed

  • Hunter preferences are addressed, by clearly encouraging processing of birds (for example, into sausage)
  • Increased clarity regarding which birds count in the possession limit
  • Public support for hunting is maintained, by encouraging use of birds taken


Many questions arise in the current regulations, such as “Is a taxidermy mount part of the possession limit?” and “Are sausages included in the possession limit?” and “Do birds taken last year count?”

Whereas the answers to all of these questions are arguably unclear in the current regulations, under the new proposed concept the answer is clearly “No, processed birds do not count as part of the possession limit.”

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2.2 Prohibit the abandonment of migratory birds


Some hunters retrieve and then dispose of birds without using them in order to evade bag and possession limits, thus enabling them to continue hunting. This practice is often referred to as wastage.

There are differences in opinion regarding what constitutes “wasted” birds. Discussions with stakeholders across the country have revealed that perceptions of wastage--both its definition and its parameters--vary widely among regions and cultures. For example, some people consider the practice of “breasting” (taking only the breast meat and discarding the rest of the carcass) as being wasteful, whereas this is an acceptable practice for others.

Although the current regulations do require that downed birds be retrieved, they do not explicitly ban wastage of birds once they are retrieved. While wastage is prohibited in a variety of ways under provincial legislation, those regulations are not consistent across the country, and in many cases apply only to species of game birds under provincial jurisdiction (for example, grouse and ptarmigan).

The problem

Wastage is a conservation issue, potentially allowing some hunters to take excessive numbers of birds. From a regulatory perspective, wastage of migratory birds taken under a hunting permit is contrary to the intent and principles of the Migratory Birds Convention Act, 1994.

Wastage is also a public perception issue. Even though it is not a common practice, killing birds and then throwing them away without using them can contribute to a poor image of hunters in the eyes of the non-hunting public, and affects hunters’ reputations as conservationists.

As indicated in the previous Section 2.1, a national prohibition on wastage is needed to complete the framework for the new concept of possession. Given the diverse views of “wastage,” it appears a consensus definition for the whole of Canada may be challenging.


Table 2.2: Options for prohibiting wastage
1. Status Quo – rely on provincial lawResponds to regional variation in what constitutes wastageWastage cannot be prosecuted reliably, migratory birds are not always covered under provincial law, conservation issue remains, and public perception is not addressed
2. Prohibit abandonment of carcasses contrary to the purpose of the permit under which the birds were taken

Captures the most blatant wastage situations

Responds to regional variation in what constitutes wastage

Less blatant instances potentially not captured
3. Prohibit wastageIf feasible to create a national definition of what constitutes wastage, would capture most instances of wastage

Consensus definition of wastage not possible

Value judgment that varies by region and culture

Recommended solution – Option 2

Key  Messages

The main difference between the status quo and the recommended option

It would be prohibited to kill birds and then dispose of them without their being used according to the purpose of the hunting permit.

Abandonment and gifting

Birds taken under a hunting permit may be given as a gift to someone else, whether or not that person holds a hunting permit. However, the birds must be accepted as a gift by the recipient. Abandonment of migratory birds on someone else’s property would not be considered a gift. The recipient of the gift would also be bound by the prohibition against abandonment.

Objectives addressed

  • Improved harvest control
  • Public support for hunting is maintained
  • Responds to public requests for wastage to be prohibited


A prohibition on abandonment of migratory birds allows enforcement of the most blatant cases of wastage--an issue of conservation concern and poor public perception of hunters.

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2.3 Prove legal ownership


Under the Regulations, any person may own--or have temporary custody of--migratory game birds that were taken legally under a hunting permit. This applies to birds that were taken by the person with the permit or by someone else, provided that whoever took the bird did so in accordance with the law. Everyone is subject to the possession limit.

The new concept of possession as described in section 2.1 of this document, if adopted, is that there would be no possession limit once the bird is processed. Even so, each person must still be able to demonstrate that the bird is legally in his or her possession.

When birds are still in the hands of the hunter who took them, the hunting permit provides proof that it was taken legally. Once the birds leave the custody of the person who hunted them, the requirement is for individual birds to be labelled with the hunter’s name, address, signature, permit number and the date the bird was harvested. This is the case even if the birds are only temporarily in someone else’s custody--for example, at the butcher or taxidermist.

The problem

Having to label each and every individual bird is a long-standing irritant for hunters, guides and people receiving the birds. It is especially difficult when the birds are used to make processed foods (sausages, jerky), as well as when large numbers of birds need to be transported all at once. Moreover, the requirement to provide labels at all is considered by some to be an imposition.


Table 2.3: Options for proving legal ownership
1: The Regulations remain as now, but also allow packages of birds, rather than just individual birds, to be labelled; onus of proof remains on custodian to prove legal taking. The Regulations specify, as they do now, the information that must be provided, including a signature.

Removes the irritant of having to label every individual bird

Information needs are clear

Onus of proof is on the custodian, who is less likely to be aware of the Regulations (but this can be addressed through a future compliance promotion effort)
2: The onus of proof remains on the custodian, but the means of proof of legal taking is unspecified (e.g. could be the label described above, or letter from the hunter who harvested the bird, or something else).Removes irritant of having to label every individual bird Custodian choice as to how to prove legal ownership

Time delays for enforcement officers to verify that the bird was taken legally

Arguments over what constitutes sufficient proof

Hunter may not admit to having taken the birds

3: Also allow packages of birds to be labelled, rather than just individual birds, and the hunter is required to label the bird or package of birds/food. As in option 1, the Regulations continue to specify information that must be provided.

Removes irritant of having to label every individual bird

Information needs a reclear

Puts onus on the hunter

Custodian or recipient still needs to know that this information should be provided

Recommended solution – Option 1

Key Messages

The main difference between the status quo and the recommended approach

Under the recommended approach, the label may be applied to packages of migratory birds, or food products made from migratory birds.

However, prior to processing, the birds must not be frozen together in such a way that they cannot be identified as individual birds.

When are labels required?

Labels are required as soon as the migratory bird leaves the custody of the hunter who killed it, even if only temporarily.

Labels must be present when the birds are at, are going to, or are returning from the butcher, the sausage maker, the taxidermist and so on. In addition, labels are required when the bird has been accepted by someone permanently as a gift.

What information must be included on the label?

The label must include:

  • the name and address of the owner
  • the number of the Migratory Bird Hunting Permit under which the bird was taken, as well as the signature of the permit holder

Recognizing that packages of food products could contain meat from birds taken on different days, the label would no longer require the date on which the birds were killed.

Objectives addressed

  • Hunter preferences are addressed
  • Increased clarity
  • Enforceability is maintained


Labels may be applied to packages of individually identifiable birds, or to packages of food products made from migratory birds. Labels are required as soon as the birds leave the custody of the person who harvested them, even if only temporarily. The information required on the label is clearly specified in the Regulations.


Footnote 1

The possession limit is the total number of a harvested migratory bird species a hunter is allowed, whether in his possession or temporarily that of another person. Birds permanently gifted to someone else are no longer in the possession limit of the hunter who harvested them.

Return to footnote 1 referrer

Footnote 2

The background to this section is based primarily on The concept of possession and possession limits in the Migratory Birds Regulations – past, present and future use and value for migratory game bird conservation in Canada. Prepared by Canadian Wildlife Service – Wildlife and Landscape Science Directorate Waterfowl Technical Committee. November 14, 2011. The full report is available, in English and French, on request.

Return to footnote 2 referrer

Footnote 3

The daily bag limit is the number of migratory birds that may be harvested by an individual on a single day.

Return to footnote 3 referrer

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