A dear Canadian friend of mine once discovered sea-kayaking, and sat with her green eyes ablaze over a beer at the Backwater in Whitehorse, telling us of her first trip in Alaska.
“We were kayaking along on this totally mirror-still ocean, and then suddenly we were surrounded by a whole bunch of whales!”
I didn’t intend to ruin her story, but it was suppertime and I was hungry and before I knew it, I had said, “Oh, whales! We eat those in Iceland.”
She looked at me grimly, frowned, and continued on as if nothing had happened.
“Then, we went a bit further, and all these seals came to check us out.”
Again, I had no intention of disturbing her, but without remembering my mother’s advice to “think before you speak,” I had blurted out, “Seals! We eat them too.”
My friend decided to act as if I hadn’t said a thing, probably presuming that ignoring the evil was the best approach.
“And you’ll never believe this,” she continued, pointedly not looking in my direction. “Suddenly there were all these puffins flying back and forth, with their incredibly funny beaks.”
And yes, you guessed it.
“Puffins! I love marinated puffin breast!”
By that time, our friends began laughing, and my kayak-friend began to see the funny side of it too.
Though, I dare say, none of them really believed that we Icelanders eat puffins.
But we do.
And they taste lovely, if prepared properly.
Marinated overnight in balsamic vinegar, soy sauce, coarse salt and a few secret spices, they are a delicious appetizer, served raw and thinly sliced on fried bread.
The Fisheries minister of Iceland knows this very well.
What he appears to know less well, is that if one intends to go puffin hunting, one needs a hunting licence.
Einar K. Gudfinnsson, minister of Fisheries, was interviewed and photographed recently, while he was catching puffin in Strandir, an area in northwest Iceland.
Einar was hunting along with other people, including the minister’s personal assistant and the head of the sports department of the Icelandic broadcasting corporation, RUV.
In the article, he was quoted speaking very highly of the activity that he claimed to have practised for many years.
Most people go out in small boats and the puffins are caught in a handheld net, after which their necks are quickly and mercifully twisted.
After the article appeared, many people contacted Umhverfisstofnun, the Environment and Food Agency of Iceland that oversees hunting and fishing licences, and asked if the minister was legally allowed to hunt puffins.
And lo and behold, the minister doesn’t have a hunting licence.
Neither does the minister’s assistant nor the head of the sports department.
What is more, a large number of people appear to have been hunting without a licence, because after the news, Umhverfisstofnun has been swamped by applications.
Furthermore, Umhverfisstofnun’s staff has now began to check puffin hunters, something that has rarely happened before.
The staff now saunter along, asking puffin hunters for their licences.
But the season is about to be over, so this year’s licence check is going to be a short-lived one, for now.
Hunting licences are needed for taking all Icelandic wild mammals and birds, other than mice, rats and mink.
Lawbreakers can expect fines or even jail time, but the latter is extremely rare.
Furthermore, after hunting, people need to hand a report over what was hunted and where, and sometimes proof thereof, to Umhverfisstofnun.
Meanwhile, Einar, who claims he had no idea that a licence is needed to kill puffins, can expect to be charged with hunting illegally.
And as in Canada, ignorance of the law is no excuse for a lawbreaker.
So he’ll better start putting money aside for the fine.