Iceland’s tourist boom of the past several years has seen the emergence of different facets of local cuisine. Some eateries push the smellier, pickled dishes often sensationalized abroad, like hákarl. Some emphasise the traditional crowd-pleasers like plokkfiskur and kjötsúpa. And many restaurants offer a “taste of Iceland” menu featuring foods that are both palatable and (to tourists) exotic. Enter the cute, colourful bird that has become the poster child of the tourist boom: the Atlantic puffin.
In the past, coastal communities had to make due with all available resources, so puffins were often hunted. Today they are protected in most countries, aside from Iceland and the Faroe Islands. Even within Iceland, it is illegal to hunt them in most of the country, aside from the north.
Most Icelanders do not regularly eat puffin, and tend to write it off as too gamey, tough, and briny. It is a culinary tradition which has largely fallen by the wayside. Which is far from a negative development.
In 2015, the Atlantic puffin’s conservation status was downgraded from “least concert” to “vulnerable.” This was probably due to the decline of sand eels, the puffin’s main food source, forcing puffins to feed their offspring lower-energy foods, leading to fewer pufflings successfully fledging.
We therefore encourage all visitors to Iceland looking to indulge in the bird to be conscious of the risks the Atlantic puffin faces as a species. Hunting may have been sustainable when practiced by and for Icelanders, but it doesn’t seem wise when factoring in current environmental woes and millions of potential visitors every year.
If you’re looking for some “authentic” tastes of Iceland, maybe just stick to the skyr.
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