The Malta Independent 25 May 2020, Monday

TMIS Editorial: No cops? No hunting season!

Sunday, 5 April 2020, 11:00 Last update: about 3 months ago

The Gozo and Hunting Minister, Clint Camilleri, was quick to go before the cameras to tell us how seriously he is taking the COVID-19 situation on the sister island, and how travel between the islands is being restricted to essential trips only.

“This is not the time for weekend breaks,” the former Qala mayor told us in a stern voice that signified how serious the Coronavirus situation is.

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Yet, Camilleri has been unequally enthusiastic to answer this newsroom’s questions with regard to the spring hunting season, which is widely expected to be approved by Cabinet next week.

Camilleri’s announcements about travel restrictions and passenger screening at the Gozo Channel terminals were very much in line with what the health authorities have been saying. For the past few weeks, people have been told to stay inside to stop the spread of the Coronavirus, and to only venture out of their homes for ‘essential matters’.

The proposal to open a spring hunting season next week, however, seems to undermine that very message – it shows great inconsistency in favour of the hunting lobby.

We have all had to give up things we love doing in order to do our part in this time of crisis, hobbies included. But it seems that hunting is considered by the people in government as an ‘essential’ matter, since it seems to trump the advice given daily by people like Charmiane Gauci.

Yet the real issue here is not having hunters go out individually or in pairs and spending an afternoon in the countryside. The country, it has been pointed out, is not in full lockdown mode and no one is stopping people from going out for a jog or taking their dog out for a walk.

The real problem is enforcement.

Hunters will likely not spread the Coronavirus, but zero enforcement will most definitely lead to a bird massacre.

The police force is struggling to cope with some of its usual duties because many of its sections have been assigned to COVID-19-related duties. These include the ALE section – the unit tasked with fighting wildlife crime. It’s 20 odd officers have been redeployed from the countryside and into our streets as they perform quarantine spot checks.

The Ornis committee, which this week suggested a spring hunting season between 10 and 30 April, was told about this very important fact.

Even the hunting lobby admitted on national television on Friday that the police do not have the necessary resources to monitor hunting illegalities.

Incredibly, the FKNK representative said that hunters have always ‘self-regulated’ and they are the first ones to report abuse.

Is this, we wonder, the same self-regulation that failed to stop the shooting down of several protected species over the past week?

Ornis has proposed a quail shooting season, ‘sparing’ migrating turtledoves, but Birdlife Malta has already recovered illegally shot Grey Herons, Marsh Harriers and Hoopoes.

If such hunting illegalities have been allowed to take place over the past days, imagine what will happen during open season.

We are far from convinced by this ‘self-regulation’ claim and, meanwhile, the police have failed to tell this newsroom how they will manage to find the manpower to monitor hunting crimes.

In all probability, they cannot spare anyone right now. Police officers are doing far more important work at this time – we agree, public health comes first.

But if there are no police officers to monitor hunting, there should be no hunting season this year. Period.

Unfortunately, we are not the ones taking decisions. The person who should really be making this argument is Clint Camilleri. As a hunter, he should know that a lack of enforcement has always led to illegalities. This year, we will have no enforcement at all.

Some sections of the media have said that the decision now rests with Environment Minister Aaron Farrugia. But they seem to forget that, while on paper Farrugia is the one who signs off on Cabinet decisions on hunting, the de facto hunting minister is Clint Camilleri.

This quandary was created by Prime Minister Robert Abela when he decided to transfer hunting – which has always been a responsibility of environment ministers – to the Gozo Ministry, without amending the law to reflect this shift in responsibilities.

At the end of the day, this will be a collective Cabinet decision and all Cabinet members are aware of the policing problem. We expect all of them to stand up and be counted and to decide that, just like this is not a time for weekend breaks, it is also not a time for completely unregulated hunting.

 

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