Harvesting seabirds has a history in Iceland ever since human settlement over 11 hundred years ago. Still today, numerous seabird colonies are utilized, for the birds, eggs and down. Seabird hunting also takes place outside the breeding season along the coast or from boats out at sea.
At present 22 seabird species breed in Iceland. This island, 103,000 sq. km in size, is estimated to hold around 4500 seabird colonies, with a total breeding population of some 7.5 million pairs. Many colonies, such as those of Fulmars, Arctic Terns, and gulls, are comprised of a single species, while the huge Látrabjarg has up to 11 breeding species.
Eiders hold a special place with Icelanders. The long tradition of down-collecting makes the eider an economically important seabird, with annual revenues totaling some $6 million dollars (2015). The down is collected from the nests and over three tons of cleaned down is produced per year.
In recent years another seabird species has equaled, even exceeded, the eider in economic terms. This is the Atlantic Puffin, an absolute favorite of foreign visitors to the country. Although the economic value to Icelandic society has not been estimated, Puffins are presented in numerous ways, mostly non-lethal, which tourists are eager to experience.
Hunting statistics has been compiled in Iceland since 1995, but such data are also available for the period 1898-1939. Everyone wishing to hunt has to register for a license (eggs and eider down exempted). Landowners need a special license to utilize traditional natural resources. The statistics show that seabird harvests have markedly declined in recent years, not the least as much fewer Puffins are taken. This decline is presumed to be due to decrease in seabird numbers, linked to climate change, and diminished interest in harvesting wild birds.
See photo reportage on seabird harvest from Iceland:
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Text on ancient and historical harvest
Text on seabird harvest today.
Status of the seabird populations