Quantifying the relative impact of hunting and oiling on Brünnich’s guillemots in the North-west Atlantic
Brunnich’s guillemot (Uria lomvia), or thick-billed murre, is an abundant pan-Arctic seabird, but several Atlantic breeding populations are declining. The species is subject to traditional harvest in the important wintering areas off west Greenland and Newfoundland, and has been subject to chronic oil pollution on the east coast of Canada. Until recently, knowledge of winter distribution has been insufficient to assess the impact of these mortality sources on specific breeding populations. We collate existing information on mortality from bag statistics in Greenland and Canada and studies of oiling off Newfoundland, as well as new data on age distribution in the harvest. Based on the results of recent tracking studies, we construct a spatially explicit population model that allocates hunting and oiling mortality to breeding populations and estimates the relative impact on their growth rate. Results indicate that annual population growth rate is depressed by 0.011–0.041 (approximately 1%–4%) by anthropogenic mortality sources. In addition to affecting local breeders, hunting in Greenland mainly affects declining breeding populations in Svalbard and Iceland, while hunting and oiling in Newfoundland mainly affect guillemots breeding in Arctic Canada and north-west Greenland, where most populations are relatively stable. The strongest relative impact is predicted on the small breeding population in Atlantic Canada, which winters mainly on the Newfoundland Shelf and therefore is exposed to both hunting and oiling. Our results clarify the relationships between hunting in Greenland and Canada and growth of specific breeding populations, and thus have major implications for harvest management of guillemots.