The Malta Independent 19 September 2019, Thursday

Hunting season closed with immediate effect

Malta Independent Saturday, 20 September 2014, 12:10 Last update: about 6 years ago

The government has announced that the autumn hunting season is being closed with immediate effect following a spate of illegal hunting incidents.

The season, which lasts until January, will only reopen on 11 October, when the autumn migration of birds would have likely finished.

In a statement issued by the Department of Information, the government said that while it wanted to ensure that hunters’ rights were respected, it would not tolerate criminal activity, particularly since the poachers involved appeared to be seeking to profit through the provision of stuffed protected birds.

The government insisted that the great majority of hunters acted responsibly, but a “very small minority of criminals” were ruining the sport to the detriment of this majority.

It claimed that enforcement of hunting laws has never been so strong, but a number of people still thought that they could do whatever they wanted.

The government added that it had already warned that such behaviour could lead to drastic action, which has now been taken. It also said that the decision would serve as a warning, and would encourage hunters to be more ready to cooperate with the police to catch the criminals among them.

CABS, BirdLife welcome decision

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the decision was welcomed by BirdLife Malta and by the Committee Against Bird Slaughter, with the former’s executive director Steve Micklewright declaring that it showed that the government was “prepared to take appropriate steps when hunters behave without any respect for the law, as they have done in recent days.”

On his part, CABS president Heinz Schwarze said that he was sure that “it was a tough call but the situation was really out of control in parts of the island. After months of empty rhetoric coming from his Parliamentary Secretary for Animal Rights Dr Muscat has shown that he really means business.”

CABS also said that it hoped that this “milestone decision” would lead hunting organisations to change their mentality and strengthen their efforts to remove the bad seeds within their ranks. It also said that it will be monitoring the countryside with powerful scopes to ensure that the ban is respected.

BirdLife noted that the hunting season closure followed the high-profile shooting of white storks as they migrated over Malta, but said that this incident was just the tip of the iceberg.

“BirdLife and CABS have witnessed a wide range of types of bird being illegally targeted by hunters in the past few days alone, including osprey and lesser kestrel. The closure of the season will enable better enforcement because legal hunting cannot now be used as cover for illegal activities,” Mr Micklewright said.

But BirdLife is also calling for an urgent review of the regulations governing autumn hunting and the decision-making process which creates these regulations, insisting that the decision to remove a 3pm curfew on hunting should be reversed.

“Following pressure from hunters, proposals from the Wild Birds Regulations Unit and consideration by the Ornis Committee, the government decided to permanently remove the 3pm curfew on hunting at this time of year. The government was presented with biased reports that downplayed the effectiveness of the curfew on preventing illegal killing of protected birds. The illegal hunting of protected species has escalated as a result,” Mr Micklewright maintained.

Another change in regulations BirdLife is calling for concerns the method by which hunters report the birds that they shoot, arguing that the present use of the Carnet de Chasse is open to abuse with hunters underreporting their catch.

”This under-reporting in autumn opens the door for the spring hunting season, because if more than a certain number of turtle dove and quail are shot in autumn, spring hunting cannot take place,” Mr Micklewright observed.

The NGO is insisting for an immediate reform of Ornis, arguing that it should contain more voting experts in bird conservation and hunting, and that the reports it receives for consideration by government officials should be objective and based on scientific evidence.

It also reiterated that the referendum for the abolition of spring hunting should take place next March, before the spring hunting season is scheduled to take place.

“The vast majority of Maltese people are sick and tired of the behaviour of hunters and want the chance to enjoy the birds that fly over Malta in spring in peace and quiet. The Maltese electorate deserve the chance to vote spring hunting out of existence before another season can take place,” Mr Micklewright concluded.

PN, AD: government encouraged illegal hunting

Both the Nationalist Party and Alternattiva Demokratika welcomed the decision to close the hunting season, but also argued that the government has partly responsible for the illegalities which led to this decision.

The PN recalled how it had closed the 2007 spring hunting season after a flock of honey buzzards was massacred, stating that no government should tolerate such incidents.

But it also insisted that the incidents which took place in recent days were not coincidental, but the result of a government whose actions signalled that illegal acts would be tolerated.

It noted that this message was reinforced by the decision to transfer a sizeable number of police officers within the Administrative Law Enforcement unit, and when the 3pm curfew was removed. As a result, the PN conclude that the decision to close the hunting season could have been avoided.

AD deputy chairman Carmel Cacopardo similarly pointed out that the increasing frequency of illegal hunting incidents were the “logical consequence” of the messages hunters received from the Labour Party. “The message that Joseph Muscat and the Labour Party sent to hunters was a very simple one: that Labour protects hunting. As a result some hunters understood that they had the right to act as they please, although not all of them share that thought. The consequences can is what we see all the time,” Mr Cacopardo maintained.

He said that while the decision to close the hunting season was a positive step, it arrived very late, as those who had been encouraged to break the law will not be discouraged as easily. He said that he had no doubt that reports of illegal hunting would surface in the coming days.

St Hubert Hunters object to ‘collective punishment’

Predictably, however, the St Hubert Hunters (KSU) were far from pleased with the move, with the association stating that it considered collective punishment to be a counterproductive measure that reflected badly on the government’s efforts to regulate hunters.

“By Government’s own admission ‘the small minority undermining hunting to the detriment of others’ was the cause to castigate ‘the majority that are responsible in their actions’,” the association said.

KSU noted that it has offered more equitable solutions that facilitated the reporting of illegal activity, and hoped that these measures would be incorporated in the existing laws before the suspension is lifted.

”Though we unreservedly condemn any hunting related illegal activity, on behalf of all our members and thousands of other law abiding hunters we consider the measures taken as draconian in this day and age where dialogue and proper consultation do lead to the best solution to any such problem. In view of the anticipated appointment of Karmenu Vella as the next Environment Commissioner we look forward to Malta setting the example of how the plague of wildlife crime throughout all the EU member states is to be tackled in a more appropriate manner,” the association concluded.

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