The guillemot winter hunt off Nuuk
The Brünnich’s guillemot – or Appa as it is called in Greenlandic - is a much-coveted seabird in Greenland. With a mass around one-kilo and dark, rich-flavored meat the guillemot is a popular meal.
During winter, the Brünnich’s guillemot is found in “The Open Water Area” – the large marine area off the coast of Southwest Greenland. Here, the sea surface does not freeze during winter and remains ice-free all year around. The area is of international importance for Atlantic seabirds and supports millions of wintering birds throughout the winter season, including the Brünnich’s guillemot. Studies indicate that the majority of the birds in the Open Water Area originate from other places than Greenland – namely the guillemot populations from Svalbard and Iceland.
The hunt itself takes places from small dinghies and other smaller boats with outdoor motors. In the Arctic winter month only few hours of light is available and the hunters has to take full advantage of the little day light during midday. They will leave the harbor of Nuuk during the morning when it is still pitch black and arrive offshore west of Nuuk about one hour of sailing. Here the guillemots are found shattered at-sea in small flocks and the hunters will approach the birds at low speed until close enough to make the shot. In the same area the little auk occurs in large numbers but the small body size of this auk species usually dos not makes it attractive to the bird hunters – they are not considered worth the effort and the price of a gun shell. The guillemots are shot with steel pellets on the water and taken on board with a small catcher. After the hunt the birds are taken back to town where they are kept for consumption for the hunter and his family, or sold at the local marked.
Hunting of Brünnich’s guillemot is only allowed outside the breeding season. Formerly, the guillemot hunt would take place throughout the autumn, winter and spring season but concern for the negative development in the population size has put a stop to the spring hunt. Today the open season of hunting is between mid-October and end of February and there is a bag limit of 30 birds per day. In other words, the period of time the birds can be hunted – and the number of individuals – has been markedly reduced within the last decade.
The guillemots are both shot “for the pot” – to the domestic household and to be traded on the local open marked. Here hunters will bring the birds directly after returning from the hunt. Others are employed as “pluckers” at the open market, where one person will remove the outer feathers of the bird whereas others will use a machine that removes the leftover downs.