Outright puffin hunting ban suggested in face of population crisis

There are calls to ban all puffin hunting in Iceland next year in the face of the continuing decline in puffin numbers around the country.

The puffin nesting season was a disaster this summer, like all recent summers. Only a quarter of breeding pairs managed to bring up young and now a leading biologist has called for a complete hunting ban.

The Icelandic puffin breeding stock is estimated at 2.5 million pairs, RUV reports.

It has long been known that puffins are going through a difficult time because of a shortage of food for their young; but a complete picture of the whole Icelandic puffin stock has not been available before now.

Erpur Snaer Hansen, a doctor of biology and sea bird specialist, this week made a presentation to a natural history institute seminar in Neskaupstadur in which he discussed the results of his puffin nesting research all around Iceland. He told delegates the puffin stock is in seriously bad shape overall; but that it differs by region.

“It is in a good way to the north and in Isafjardardjup (Westfjords) while elsewhere in the country the situation is just lousy. There were no chicks which made it to adulthood there this summer and it can only go one way,” Hansen said. His recommendation is that all puffin hunting be banned in Iceland, as it already has been in the Icelandic Westman Islands — the heart of the world puffin stock. Hansen says that there has been a breeding crisis in the Westman Islands for the last seven summers in a row, and similarly long on Papey island as well. He estimates that three quarters of puffin nesting failed this summer; including all nesting in south Iceland where the birds feed on sand eels. He also believes the birds are under more human pressure than previously thought.

“People thought a few decades ago that around 8.4 percent of the birds were nesting birds. That seemed a little lower than expected. But when this proportion is looked at closer it becomes clear that the proportion is more like 30 percent. In other words this means that hunting has a greater impact than people thought,” He says.

Puffin is considered a delicacy in Iceland and it has been a part of the diet for centuries, during which it seemed almost impossible to damage the millions-strong bird population. Hunting of puffins is still not the cause of the bird’s decline; but, Hansen believes, after seven failed breeding seasons the stock is under too much strain already and hunting only adds to the pressure. The puffin is not Iceland’s national bird; but it is the country’s most iconic bird and one which tourists and locals alike love to see in the wild. They spend their winters at sea and the only time to hunt them with nets is during the summer nesting season in coastal cliff areas.