The Malta Independent 25 May 2020, Monday

TMID Editorial: Hunting - It’s all about fairness and enforcement

Friday, 3 April 2020, 07:52 Last update: about 3 months ago

There are two main reasons why the government should go against the recommendation by Ornis committee to open the spring hunting season.

The first is that we are all supposedly equal and the entire population is being urged to stay inside to stop, or at least slow down, the spread of Covid-19. The health authorities are running widespread media campaigns about this, and doctors and nurses who are working on the frontlines are urging people not to be selfish and to stay indoors.

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If the government were to make an exception for hunters, who always seem to be treated as a privileged community in this country, it may as well tell everyone to go out and practice their favourite hobbies – let’s all forget that there’s a health crisis, shall we?

The rules are there to be followed, by everyone. We cannot but note the sudden change in tone when it comes to the hunting issue. We common mortals are being asked to stay inside, even if this is not a full lockdown but, when it comes to hunters, the important thing is that social distancing rules are followed, the authorities are saying.

It is quite clear that there are inconsistencies when it comes to applying the Covid-19 rules and recommendations to the powerful hunting lobby.

The second reason, and this is of much bigger concern, is the enforcement issue.

Enforcement against hunting illegalities has always been massively inadequate. Even before this crisis came about, the police force’s wildlife crime unit – the ALE – was greatly understaffed, especially in Gozo.

EU rules stipulate that there must be seven police officers in the field for every thousand hunters. In Malta, that translates into a requirement of around 50 officers watching out for illegal hunting. But the ALE only has around 20 members and, to make matters worse, all of them are currently deployed on Coronavirus quarantine checks.

This means that this unit is currently unable to perform it usual task of monitoring hunting illegalities and prosecuting rogue hunters who do not obey the law.

The Ornis committee has recommended a 20-day season during which hunters would only be allowed to hunt for quail. The problem is that this period of time coincides with peak turtledove migration and, without any officers in the field, who knows how many of these birds will be shot down.  No, we cannot read the future but, given past experiences in this country it is safe to say that hunting illegalities will only increase in the face of non-existent enforcement.

The police have so far failed to reassure us that they will have the required resources, should cabinet decide to open the season, as it is expected to do and, according to reports, the Ornis committee has been warned that there are not enough police officers to do this job.

Even if the full ALE section were to be redeployed to the countryside during these 20 days of hunting, the numbers would still not be enough.

These two reasons should be more than enough for the government to see sense and to skip this year’s hunting season, but history and experience would suggest that this will likely not be the case.

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