The Malta Independent 25 June 2024, Tuesday
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TMID Editorial: Spring hunting

Thursday, 23 March 2023, 13:13 Last update: about 2 years ago

A statement made during an interview with The Malta Independent by PL MEP Alex Agius Saliba over spring hunting has raised eyebrows. 

“I don’t believe that spring hunting per se is against EU rules, if it is practised in a sustainable manner. This is a big mistake we make when it comes to conservation. Hunters and trappers play a very important role in conservation, which has also been accepted by the EU Commission,” Agius Saliba said. He continued that hunters should not be excluded, and what we should be focusing on is having more research and studies assessing the current population of birds when it comes to opening and using new derogations. “It is not an issue of closing down spring hunting completely, this was an issue voted on in a popular referendum in Malta, where people voted in a democratic way not to close down spring hunting. It should be maintained in a sustainable way by having proper enforcement, and a situation where an important part of our cultural heritage and tradition is continued to be enjoyed by a big part of our population,” he said.

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First of all, on the issue of enforcement, it is lacking. According to BirdLife Malta, During 2021, the number of protected birds known to the NGO that had been diagnosed as illegally shot stood at 181. Harsher punishments are needed for those who break the law, and like almost every other department, more resources are needed to catch those committing illegalities.

Let’s be honest, had it not been for NGOs like BirdLife and CABS, most would probably be oblivious to the illegalities. Many hunters abide by regulations, but then there are those who couldn’t care less about shooting down protected birds. To cut a long story short… we need better enforcement.

One must also pose the question, should we allow the hunting of birds during the breeding season, or would this just result in lower populations of those birds? Is this being allowed for the right reasons, or simply not to lose any votes?

The rest of Alex Agius Saliba’s position was quickly shot down by BirdLife Malta CEO Mark Sultana. BirdLife is an NGO that is committed to the protection of wild birds and their habitats.  Sultana posed the question, “how can killing birds in spring during their breeding season in any way be sustainable, let alone when the species is in a vulnerable status like the Turtle-dove (Gamiema)?”

Sultana is right here. The practice cannot be sustainable as the MEP is saying. The government is making a push in favour of the environment, yet when it comes to spring hunting its own party MEPs then defend the practice.

Sultana said that it has become very common to see the words ‘sustainability’ or ‘sustainable’ abused by those who want to greenwash any activity which is harmful to biodiversity and nature. “It is also absurd to try and convince that trapping and hunting actually help in protecting birds. MEP Alex Agius Saliba has become a strong lobbyist for hunting in spring and trapping, which - unlike what he says - go directly against the European Birds Directive.”

Malta is currently in hot water with the European Commission over its hunting policy, and would do well to tread carefully. In February of this year, the European Commission decided to send an additional letter of formal notice to Malta for spring hunting of turtle dove and to correctly apply the Birds Directive. “Malta has authorised derogations for the hunting of quail since 2011, and the live-capturing of golden plover and song thrush since 2012, and also failed to establish a general system of protection of wild birds against illegal killing and capturing. Therefore, a letter of formal notice was sent on 3 December 2020. On 8 April 2022, Malta extended the spring hunting derogation to cover the turtle dove. This derogation fails to comply with the conditions laid down in the Birds Directive, and goes against the ongoing conservation efforts of the Member States and the Commission.” 

Aside from this, the Commission at the end of 2021 had also decided to refer Malta to the Court of Justice of the European Union for failing to correctly apply the Birds Directive “by incorrectly applying a derogation regime and authorising the trapping of protected finches for research purposes.”

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