Following Tuesday's publication of the dates for the autumn hunting season, BirdLife Malta has called into question government claims that hunting regulations and conditions will be strictly enforced.
The government claims that "The Police shall monitor closely the observance of hunting regulations and conditions." However, BirdLife Malta's monitoring of previous hunting seasons suggest otherwise. For example, last September, during the peak month for migration of birds of prey over Malta, BirdLife Malta alone recorded 311 illegal hunting offences, including 119 incidents of hunters targeting protected species. However, for the same period a total of only 12 charges were issued by the police for illegal hunting offences.
BirdLife Malta stated that the government has given no reason to think that the situation will be improved this year. Despite the fact that migration has started and numerous illegal hunting and trapping incidents have been observed, the ALE unit is currently assigned to beach patrols.
"People reporting illegal trapping incidents to the ALE over the last few weeks have been advised to contact the District Police. But the District Police are generally unfamiliar with hunting and trapping legislation and the procedures for dealing with these kinds of crimes against wildlife," said Nicholas Barbara, BirdLife Malta Conservation Manager.
Implications for spring hunting derogation
Furthermore the legislation regulating this year's autumn hunting season does not take into consideration the spring hunting derogation the government is applying for Turtle Dove and Common Quail. Since the government is relying solely on the data gathered from hunters for the opening of a spring hunting season, lack of proper control of birds killed in autumn and reported to MEPA creates a major loophole. Both Turtle Dove and Common Quail are species declining in Europe, yet in autumn hunters are allowed to hunt an unlimited number of birds, with no checks in place to independently verify what is reported to MEPA.
The application of a spring hunting derogation in 2013 will depend on hunters' declared catches this autumn. "Hunters have an incentive to under-report their kills in the autumn Carnet de Chasse if they want to have a spring hunting season next year", said Barbara.
Proposed trapping derogation
Although the legal notice issued on Tuesday did not include a derogation to open an autumn trapping season, the government is reportedly considering a trapping season for Song Thrush and Golden Plover. This is despite the EU's 'reasoned opinion' of February this year, Malta's second warning that in relation to trapping seasons opened up until 2011.
The EU has already warned Malta of it's non-compliance with the Birds Directive for a trapping season opened last November for just Song Thrush, adding that past trapping seasons have inadvertently been utilised as a loophole for the banned practice of finch trapping.
"We urge the government not to again put Malta in the position of being taken to the European Court of Justice for its failure to protect wild birds," concluded Barbara.