Deep North Episode 63: In Pursuit of Ptarmigan

ptarmigan hunting iceland

It’s 6:00 AM and the obsidian darkness lingers outside my windshield. I arrive in the Kársnes neighbourhood of Kópavogur, park my car, and hop into Kristján Andri Einarsson’s black Jimny. The hunter greets me with a boyish smirk, ready for today’s adventure. He is wearing a camouflage cap on his greying auburn hair. Until this day, I have never gone hunting, nor seen a real gun in my life. All that is about to change.

Read the full story here.

In Pursuit of Ptarmigan

ptarmigan hunt iceland

It’s 6:00 AM and the obsidian darkness lingers outside my windshield. I arrive in the Kársnes neighbourhood of Kópavogur, park my car, and hop into Kristján Andri Einarsson’s black Jimny. The hunter greets me with a boyish smirk, ready for today’s adventure. He is wearing a camouflage cap on his greying auburn hair. Until this […]

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Expert Proposes Ban on Hunting Puffins

puffins iceland

The South Iceland Nature Research Centre proposes a full ban on puffing hunting in Iceland in a new report. Iceland’s puffin population has been below sustainable limits for a long time and its outlook is poor. The Centre’s Director and a Doctor of Biology Erpur Snær Hansen told RÚV that changing hunting regulations would take political will.

Around 20% of the global population of puffins nest in Iceland’s Westman Islands, with other, smaller colonies across the country. The average puffin population in Iceland has shrunk by 70% in the last thirty years. The change is attributed to a scarcity of food for the birds caused by rising sea temperatures. Hunting, of course, causes the birds’ numbers to decline even further.

Population set to keep decreasing, even if hunting is banned

Erpur says The total puffin population in Iceland numbers around 3 million nesting pairs. If puffing hunting is banned, that population is expected to decrease by over 10% over the next decade. If hunting continues to be permitted, however, the population is expected to decrease by 30% or even as much as 50% within that same period.

“This is not sustainable hunting, and the Wildlife Act clearly states that it should be,” Erpur explains. He adds that the current regulations around puffing hunting mean that not all puffins hunted are reported, so the impact on the population could be greater than projected.

Political will needed to ban puffing hunting

Erpur goes on to explain that, unlike ptarmigan or reindeer hunting, for which quotas can be set and changed yearly by inserting a provision into the regulation, puffing hunting is subject to a different set of laws. In order to ban puffing hunting, the Minister of the Environment would need to change that law. “Maybe it can just be said that the political will to do something about it was not strong enough, or that the pressure from interested parties was therefore greater,” Erpur mused.

Minister of Fisheries Svandís Svavarsdóttir received criticism for imposing a temporary ban on whale hunting this year, a decision that also caused tension within the governing coalition.

Proposal to Ban Sale of Greylag Geese

greylag goose iceland

The Ministry for the Environment, Energy, and Climate has published a draft amendment regarding bird hunting and the utilization of products from wild birds. It is available for comment on the government portal.

The proposed amendment aims to prohibit the unauthorized selling of grey geese and their products. It will also be prohibited to export them. However, the domestic sale of prepared geese will still be allowed.

In recent years, the population of grey geese has been declining, and the ministry’s proposal for a sales ban is intended to aid the recovery of the Icelandic population.

According to the draft amendment, the situation will be reassessed after a year, and if the decline in the population continues during that time, the duration of the hunting season for grey geese will be reconsidered. If there is an increase in the population, the need for an ongoing sales ban will be evaluated.

The Ministry for the Environment, Energy, and Climate emphasizes that violations of the regulation may result in fines or imprisonment of up to 2 years, as well as the revocation of hunting and firearms licenses.

The deadline for submitting comments is August 8th.

Reindeer Season to Continue as Normal

Reindeer hunting Iceland

Despite recommendations by the Animal Welfare Advisory Board to delay the 2023 reindeer hunting season, Vísir reports that the season will remain unchanged this year.

Reindeer hunting will start on July 15th and cow hunting on August 1st, as in previous years. Reindeer hunting will end September 15th and cow hunting on September 20th. The recommendation by the Animal Welfare Advisory Board was intended for the welfare of reindeer calves, specifically for orphaned calves during the winter. In the Advisory Board’s recommendation, reference was made to Norway, where the hunting season starts later.

Recent findings

However, according to Bjarni Jónasson at the Environment Agency of Iceland, the findings of a recent report did not present sufficient evidence to change the season. In a statement to Vísir, Bjarni said: “A comparison of the average winter mortality rate of calves before and after the protection of calves does not indicate that a higher proportion of motherless calves increases the overall winter mortality rate of calves. By shortening the hunting season and compressing the hunting activities, the hunting pressure on the herds could increase, which could have adverse effects on the animals.”

Bjarni also referred to a recent study from the East Iceland Natural Research Centre. The study found that “there is still no evidence that orphaned calves cannot survive and live through most winters. However, there is a risk that they might have a higher mortality rate than calves that accompany their mothers in harsh years. Such incidents have probably not occurred in the past decade unless very localised.”

Bjarni also repeated that all reindeer hunters are required to have an experienced guide with a valid permit from the Environment Agency. The guide directs the hunter in choosing the animal after observing the herd, allowing hunters to see if the calf is accompanying the cow or not.

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2023 Reindeer Hunting Quota Released

Reindeer hunting Iceland

Iceland’s reindeer hunting quota for 2023 will be up to 901 reindeer: 475 cows and 426 bulls. This number is subject to the condition that there will be no significant changes in stock size until the hunting season begins. The Environment Agency of Iceland released the quota yesterday.

The bull hunting season will be from July 15 to September 15 inclusive. In the period from July 15 to August 1, hunting of bulls is only permitted provided that they are not accompanied by cows and that the hunting does not disturb cows and calves during summer grazing.

Cow hunting season is from August 1 to September 20. During the first two weeks of the hunting season, hunters and guides are strongly advised to avoid killing cows that are suckling calves as much as possible. These recommendations are intended to reduce the impact of hunting on calves and to ensure that calves do not become motherless before 12 weeks of age. The quota is split between nine regions to ensure a more even impact on the reindeer population.

Greylag Geese Hunting Banned in Iceland

grey goose hunting

Since the start of this year, it has been illegal to hunt greylag geese in Iceland, RÚV reports. The change is due to amendments to an international agreement on the protection of migrating wetland birds, to which Iceland is a party. The Icelandic Farmers’ Association (Bændasamtökin) has requested for the Icelandic government to lift the ban during the autumn season so farmers can protect their pastureland and grain fields from the geese.

Hunting of greylag geese has generally been permitted in Iceland between August 20 and March 15, and many farmers have used hunting quota to protect their cultivated land from geese. Most hunting is done in the fall, so the ban has not had much of an impact as of yet.

Counts show a decrease in greylag geese

In October 2021, Icelandic hunting association Skotvís reported a drop in greylag goose numbers in the country over the preceding decade. The Icelandic population of the bird had reached a high point in 2011, numbering some 112,000 birds, but figures from 2020 indicated that there were just around 60,000 individuals of the species remaining. The cause of the decrease is not known. At the time, hunters were encouraged to aim their barrels at pink-footed geese instead, whose population was thriving.

Geese impact grain harvest

Both greylag geese and pink-footed geese love a fresh, green snack, and thus they negatively impact grain harvests in Iceland as well as the cultivation of pastureland for livestock. Björn Halldórsson, a farmer in Vopnafjörður, Northeast Iceland, says the geese chomp on fields both in spring and fall. The Farmers’ Association has called on the government to introduce countermeasures to the hunting ban to protect grain harvests and pastureland, especially as the government has a stated aim of increasing grain production in Iceland.

Representatives of the Ministry for the Environment, Energy, and Climate told RÚV a hunting policy is in the works that will likely be ready before this autumn.

Ask Iceland Review: Can I Import a Gun to Iceland?

gun laws iceland

While many may not associate Icelanders with gun culture, Iceland ranks high on lists for international per capita gun ownership, with around 32 guns per 100 citizens. This places Iceland at number 12 in the world for overall gun ownership, with a total of around 106,000 guns in the whole country.

Hunting is an important tradition in Iceland, and many also practice marksmanship as a hobby. But even though guns are relatively plentiful here, there are strict regulations on them.

As we stated in our Ask Iceland Review on guns last year, to own a gun in Iceland, you must be at least 20 years old with no criminal record. You must pass a mental and physical health check and get character references from two people, in addition to attending a course on guns, gun safety, and gun and hunting laws. After passing a written test, you’re issued a permit for shotguns and rifles. For larger rifles and semi-automatic shotguns, you must wait an additional year.

It is legal to import some guns, mostly hunting rifles. Iceland, for example, serves as a stop-over for many headed to the Norwegian territory of Svalbard, where guns are actually required because of polar bears. These guns must also go through Icelandic controls.

Notably, it is illegal to import all guns of the following types:

  • automatic and semi-automatic pistols of all calibres
  • automatic and semi-automatic rifles of all calibres
  • automatic shotguns
  • semi-automatic and pump-action shotguns capable of carrying more than two cartridges.

You can view Iceland’s gun laws (in Icelandic, of course) here.

Additionally, you may want to read over the website for the capital area police, or contact them directly at their email: [email protected]


Iceland Among Nations to Boycott Vote on South Atlantic Whale Sanctuary

whale Iceland hvalur

Iceland’s delegation to a meeting of the International Whaling Commission (IWC) joined 14 other nations in walking out on a vote on whether to establish a whale sanctuary in the South Atlantic, Vísir reports. The mass walkout took place at the end of Friday’s session and meant that there were not enough member nations present to vote on the initiative. The Icelandic government has since commented on the walkout, saying that it objected to the vote on grounds of protocol and fairness to absent member states.

A proposal to establish a whale sanctuary in the South Atlantic has been circulating amongst members of the IWC for years—20 years, according to a representative of Whale and Dolphin Conservation (WDC) Germany.

A simple majority of the IWC member states has already voted in support of the proposal, but a 3/4 majority is needed to ratify it.

“Pro-whaling nations…holding Commission hostage”

Iceland’s delegation to the IWC consists of four delegates, including one representative each from the Ministry of Food, Agriculture, and Fisheries; the Ministry of Foreign Affairs; and the Marine and Freshwater Research Institute. The fourth representative is Kristján Loftsson, CEO of the whaling company, Hvalur, hf.

A recap of the Friday meeting on the IWC website described it as “challenging,” starting, on a more positive note, with the fact that it “ended with a consensus Resolution on Marine Plastics” which “highlights the transboundary nature of the threat and need for collaboration at international and multi-disciplinary levels.”

Transboundary collaboration was stymied at the next agenda item, however, although the IWC recap struck a rather diplomatic tone when describing it: “Absence of some governments from the room and subsequent debate regarding quorum and handling of the Schedule Amendment on the South Atlantic Sanctuary prevented a vote taking place and resulted in Commission agreement to develop proposals to clarify the rules related to quorum and attendance. This will be the first agenda item at the next meeting in 2024 and will be discussed before the Commission is asked to take any decisions.”

Matt Collins, the president of the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), was more vocal in his critique of the proceedings, however, tweeting:

“breaking news: pro-whaling nations at #IWC68 refuse to join sessions, breaking quorum required for any decision-making. This is all because they fear losing a vote on establishing a South Atlantic Whale Sanctuary (where none of them hunt or want to hunt whales)”

According to Collins’ later tweets, Iceland joined 14 other nations in the walkout: Antigua & Barbuda, Benin, Cambodia, Cote D’Ivoire, Ghana, Iceland, Kiribati, Laos, Liberia, Mauritania, Morocco, Nauru Palau, St. Lucia, and the Solomon Islands. The meeting chair elected to adjourn for lunch to see if the absent nations would return, but none of them did. “Same countries still absent, holding the Commission hostage…” tweeted Collins, a state of affairs that continued even after a second adjournment and “passionate pleas from Latin American countries for those absent to show respect to those who have remained.”

Ministry says Iceland objected out of fairness to absent members, protocol

Dúi Landmark, the PR officer for the Ministry of Food, Agriculture, and Fisheries, confirmed that the Icelandic delegation walked out of the South Atlantic Whale Sanctuary vote. In a written statement issued to the media about the incident, the Ministry stated that fewer than two out of three IWC member states were present at this year’s meeting in Portoroz, Slovenia, for a variety of reasons. The statement noted that it was the opinion of representatives of developing nations in Africa and island nations in the Caribbean that a vote should not be held under such circumstances. A number of present nations tried to proceed with the vote, but the Icelandic government agreed with the objectors, saying that holding a vote would be a breach of protocol according to the IWC’s Articles of Association.

“Consequently, Iceland believes that it would be irregular to vote on such a proposal when the requirements of the [IWC’s] Articles of Association have not been fulfilled and a number of member states are unable to substantively comment on the proposal in question through participation in, and discussions at the annual meeting,” concluded the Ministry’s response.

The vote on the South Atlantic Whale Sanctuary will be the first agenda item at next year’s meeting of the International Whaling Commission.

Reindeer Hunting Quota for 2022 Released

Reindeer hunting Iceland

A total of 1,021 reindeer may be hunted during the 2022 season, 546 cows and 475 bulls, according to the newly released quota from the Minister of the Environment, Energy, and Climate. The decision is based on proposals from the Environment Agency of Iceland. This is 199 fewer reindeer than last year, primarily due to uncertainty about reindeer counts due to weather conditions and the movement of animals between hunting areas during the count.

Bull (male reindeer) hunting season is from August 1 to September 15. Cows (female reindeer) may be hunted between August 1 and September 20. During the first two weeks of the season, hunters are required to avoid killing cows that are suckling, in order to minimise the impact hunting has on calves. Hunting guides are responsible for assisting and guiding hunters in their selection of prey. Icelandic regulations forbid the hunting of calves and bulls under two years of age.

Read More: In Reindeer Country

As in previous years, the quota is divided between nine hunting areas, with the permitted number of animals specified for each area. The Environment Agency advertises and handles the sale of all reindeer hunting licences.

Reindeer are not native to Iceland. They were imported to the country from Norway in the late eighteenth century and are currently to be found in the east of the country. Reindeer have no natural predators in Iceland.