I am a biologist and I believe in ecologically sustainable foraging. I believe in providing a quick clean death to something I'm prepared to eat. I'm not of the ilk who will buy mutton in a supermarket, but not deal with the fairly grim process of turning it from sheep into mutton. I still believe that as a small farmer you can do this better and more ethically than at mass produced poultry farms or feedlots and trucking to vast abbatoirs. Anyway - tomorrow we go out muttonbirding. I must say my first reaction to this was not one of unmixed joy. The idea of taking a large chick out of the nest and killing it is not one that appeals to the side of me that wants to protect the young. Yes, they're fluffy. Cute if you don't smell them.
I thought about it a lot and I think the decider was someone posting that muttonbirding should be stopped because they'd seen so many of the adults washed up dead of starvation. Dying of starvation is what various crusading animal protectors have inflicted on deer in the UK and been happy to do to elephants in South Africa. It might be nature's way, but it is really predicated by the fact that there are a lot of humans out there, and either natural food sources or space just isn't available. And it is a horrible way to die. If my choice is to starve slowly and desperately or eat reasonably well and live a contented life and then get killed quickly and cleanly... Please kill me. Muttonbirds might be cute and appeal to the protect baby animals side of us, but in reality it makes a lot more sense with anything (be it muttonbirds or fish) to protect the breeding adults (and maybe protect their food supply from overfishing) - where natural mortality rates are fairly low, and take some of the group where natural mortality rates are high (in some fish, 99.9999% - that's why you can go from boom to disaster to boom with some fish species). The shearwaters numbers and the health of colonies are monitored, the process is policed and licenced. I have been a scientist and I know this much, if my fellow biologists believed they had evidence to show that this was endangering this species, they'd stop it, tradition or no.
Anyway. That's my stance. I gather from the islanders taking us out there that it is something of a rite of passage, and bit of an honour to be invited. Some of them have a tradition of doing this that goes back millenia.
Of course I am curious as to what they'll taste like too. But I could have found that out without doing it myself. But I would rather do it myself and I know it will be done as quickly and cleanly as I can.