The bag limit for mallard ducks has been cut in half.

"This is a big deal," said Mike Peters, game bird project leader for the state Division of Natural Resources. "For the past 20 years, we have experienced liberal seasons with six-bird-per-day bat limits and 60-day seasons, with mallards being a big part of the harvest."

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which bases waterfowl regulations on annual surveys across North America, has determined that mallard populations in the Eastern U.S. are in decline.

The mid-continent mallard population still is stable, but the breeding population in northeastern states has declined by 38 percent since 1998. According to Peters, the northeastern population accounts for about 60 percent of the mallards taken in the Atlantic Flyway.

The Atlantic Flyway states include West Virginia, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Vermont and Virginia.

Because of the population decline, hunters in the Atlantic Flyway killed about 40 percent fewer mallards in 2016 than they did in 1998.

To keep mallard numbers from declining even more, Fish and Wildlife Service regulators have cut the daily bag limit for the species from four to two, only one of which may be a hen.

Even with the mallard reduction, the new regulations contain some good news. The duck season will still last 60 days, and the daily duck limit (all species combined) will remain at six. West Virginia also avoided any reduction to its Canada goose bag limit.

"Other states saw reductions," Peters said. "The Atlantic population of Canadas has had two poor production years, but West Virginia isn't affected because our geese are managed as a resident population. We don't get many migrants coming through, so we get to continue with a five-goose limit."

The state will also retain a three-bird limit on wood ducks and a two-bird limit on black ducks. Over the years, mallards, wood ducks and black ducks have comprised the lion's share of West Virginia's duck harvest.

Peters said one other regulation change for the 2019-20 season should prove popular with hunters.

"The final segment of the season will end on the last day of January," he said. "Historically, it has ended a little before the end of the month. The season will still be 60 days, but ending it on the last day of the month will give hunters more opportunity within that popular midwinter portion of the season."

The first split of this year's duck season will take place Oct. 1-14. The second segment will run from Nov. 11 to Nov. 16, and the final segment will run from Dec. 23 to Jan. 31.

The early goose season is scheduled for Sept. 2-14. The first segment of the regular season will take place Oct. 1-19, the second segment Nov. 11-16 and the third segment from Dec. 9 to Jan. 31.