The Malta Independent 24 June 2019, Monday

TMID Editorial: Illegal hunting - If we can’t stop it on land how can we stop it at sea?

Friday, 18 January 2019, 11:11 Last update: about 6 months ago

In 2018 the country registered the worst in six years for the killing of protected birds, and the illegalities are continuing into 2019 seemingly unabated and under cover of the great expanse of sea that surrounds us.

An incident on Wednesday brought the issue into focus when BirdLife Malta received a report that at least 10 out of a flock of 23 protected ducks had been shot down from the sea off Malta’s northeast coast, right in the middle of an Ornis Committee meeting of all things.

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BirdLife Malta called for an abrupt end to the season right there and then, but the main hunters’ lobby, the FKNK, of course took no small amount of exception to the proposal labelling any such action as unfair ‘collective punishment’.

The motion was shot down by the Committee’s government and hunting representatives.

The problem is that, according to BirdLife, Wednesday’s ‘massacre’ was far from an isolated incident judging by the amount of injured seabirds it says it has observed over the last two months.  As for Wednesday’s incident, the Administrative Law Enforcement (ALE) unit within the Malta Police Force, which is tasked with controlling illegal hunting, was unable to apprehend the culprits, who will no doubt be facing stiff penalties once they are brought to justice now that the boat’s owner has reportedly been identified.

We know full well how difficult it is to keep the terra firma countryside under control when it comes to the bad apples amongst the hunting community that would risk bringing such ‘collective punishment’ upon the greater hunting community for their own selfish motives.  Just imagine how difficult it must be to control the great expanse of sea out there along the coasts and cliffs.

This is quite clearly exceedingly difficult to control and as such a stronger message should be sent out to those who would transgress the law so wilfully.  Arresting and bringing to justice the criminals is not enough. 

The message needs to be stronger, and it needs to come in the form of an early closure to the season for hunting at sea.  In reality, such action would amount to not much more than a slap on the wrist since the season is scheduled to remain open until 31 January.  But a slap on the wrist is far better than taking no action at all.

Perhaps it is only when such bad apples know that not only they but the entire hunting community will be punished for their transgressions will they stop.  Until then, like so many other things out at sea, illegalities will persist.

BirdLife yesterday highlighted that whenever such harsh action had been take in the past, the zero tolerance message had come through loud and clear and the incidence of illegal hunting had reduced.  This, sadly, seems to be the only kind of action that works.

At the opening of the season at the beginning of last September, the Parliamentary Secretary for Animal Rights, himself a hunter who had coincidentally ‘shot’ an enthusiastic photograph of a flock of ducks over Valletta during a Cabinet meeting on the same day, insisted that the government would not tolerate hunting illegalities this season.

Now it’s time for him to put his figurative money where his mouth is.

The government must set an example. It must enforce the law and not allow the bad apples among the hunting community to make a mockery of the laws of the land.

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