ANGRY islanders have been refused permission to increase their controversial annual cull of baby seabirds.
The guga hunters of Ness, on the Isle of Lewis, have permission to kill 2,000 gannet chicks a year but claim the population is healthy enough to withstand a bigger cull.
In a 400-year-old tradition, the baby birds are clubbed, salted and stored in a jar, before being eaten, usually with potatoes and a glass of milk.
Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) was formally asked for permission to increase the cull earlier this year and has now ruled against the guga hunters.
A SNH spokesman said: “We recognise the hunt’s cultural and historical significance. This tradition can be maintained without increasing the number of gannets harvested from this internationally important site.
“Our duty is to recognise the conservation objectives of this site while being mindful of the cultural significance of this event.”
The cull was backed by Western Isles MP Angus MacNeil who argued the change was justified because the gannet bird colonies have grown in size.
A study published by SNH themselves showed numbers have been increasing by 2.2% per annum.
Mr MacNeil said yesterday he was “disappointed”.
He said: “I don’t think the guga numbers would be any higher without the guga hunters.
“If SNH are saying we can’t increase the hunt quota when the bird numbers are going up then I would definitely hope they wouldn’t say they would decline if the numbers came down.”
He added: “I’m disappointed. There is certainly demand for guga.”
Men from Ness set sail once a year to the remote islet of Sùla Sgeir in pursuit of Guga, which is Gaelic for gannet.
The birds, which are the size of a small chicken, are caught on the cliffs during a 10-day expedition.
Guga, which typically sells for around £16 a bird, is adored by some for its unusual fishy taste but many others are unable to stomach it.
The cull is exempt from EU laws which prohibit killing seabirds.
Former Ness resident ,John Kelman, now the manager of Musa restaurant, Aberdeen, said he could see no reason to oppose an increase in the cull.
He said: “I’m from Ness and I get birds sent out to me every year.
“If there’s a call for it – clearly there’s enough cultural significance – to kill a bird that isn’t endangered, and its population has increased, I don’t see why not?
“If we appreciate food culture in other countries, why not here?”
But Scottish SPCA Chief Superintendent Mike Flynn said, “We do not believe the number of guga hunted each year should increase and would support a total ban.
“We appreciate that guga hunting was a way of life for the people of Ness and that gannet chicks were an essential food supply hundreds of years ago. However, killing animals in this way has no place in modern society.”