Criticism of Finland's Spring Hunting of Common Eider
The population of common eider Somateria mollissima in the Baltic Sea has dramatically declined over the last decades. Nevertheless, the local government of Åland, an autonomous group of islands belonging to Finland, has re-opened spring hunting of common eiders as of 1st of May. The BirdLife Partners in Denmark, Sweden and Finland protest against spring hunting and call for the EU to take action to protect this vulnerable population.
According to an article of Jan Skriver The population of common eiders has seen a serious crisis in the Baltic Sea in recent decades, and the breeding population has decreased by 40% since 1995, so almost by half in 15 years. However, this situation has not prevented the local Government of Åland, an autonomous Finnish archipelago in the Baltic Sea, from reintroducing the authorisation of spring hunting of common eider with effect from 1. May 2011 and violating the EU Birds Directive.
As birds are busy with their breeding activities, hunters on the archipelago, which consists of 6500 islands and reefs in the northern part of the Baltic Sea, can shoot adult males. According to scientists, this has a damaging effect on the population, as widowed females produce fewer ducklings. There are many reasons to condemn the spring hunting of common eiders. The authorisation of shooting the birds in the breeding season is an expression of bad management. As the common eider suffers a strong decline in the Baltic Sea in general and in Finland in particular, this authorisation appears unfair and contradictory to modern and decent nature management, says Egon Østergaard, Chairman of the board for Dansk Ornitologisk Forening (DOF) – BirdLife Denmark.
Furthermore, the authorisation of the spring hunting has also negative effects on other species in the territory, also vulnerable in this season, as it disrupts and distracts their breeding opportunities. Currently only Finland and Malta are the only countries in the EU that tolerate this unjustified spring hunting practice. BirdLife Finland has worked during the last years in order to ban spring hunting definitively in Finland. Last spring, when Åland decided to reopen spring hunting of common eiders, BirdLife Finland submitted a complaint to the European Commission.
The decision of re-opening spring hunting was based on a study that Åland authorities ordered to Uppsala University in Sweden. The purposeful report claims that eiders are very rare in Autumn, so Åland Authorities decided that autumn hunting did not offer a satisfactory alternative. Data collected by BirdLife Finland in the archipelago show that eiders are common in Autumn : flocks of hundred birds are always observed in this season. It’s quite evident that it would be preferable allowing hunting of eiders at this period than during spring, as it’s less harmful for both the eider population but also other species breeding in the archipelago. The EU Court of Justice’s declaration from 2005 made Finland put an end to spring hunting for common eider. However, Åland decided to reintroduce the criticized spring hunting for the declining common eider.
In Sweden there are strong critical voices against this decision. It is irresponsible to allow hunting during the breeding season, in particular if we take into account that the population of common eider has halved in the last few decades. The local Government of Åland has succumbed to a small yet influential hunting lobby, says Dennis Kraft on behalf of Sveriges Ornitologiska Förening (SOF) – BirdLife Sweden. The Swedish ornithologists invite the Swedish Minister for Environment to approach his Finnish colleague in order to discontinue spring hunting in Finland.
The common eider is a symbol for the whole Baltic Sea and the eiders on Åland belong to the same population as birds in the Stockholm Archipelago. Both biologically and ethically, it is wrong to hunt birds in their breeding season. This is taking toll on the core capital and not just the surplus, while by hunting in autumn one takes from the profit, says Dennis kraft from SOF. According to BirdLife Finland, the reintroduction of the spring hunting may be linked to the fact that certain political forces, who are against the Finnish Government’s nature protection with impetus in the EU, want to please voters with roots in old hunting traditions on the islands. It’s important to take it into account because there will have local elections on Åland island in the autumn. During the spring hunting season this year, almost 3000 hunters of Åland participated to the hunting; a quite high number for a population of about 27 000 inhabitants.