Updated 2.50pm, adds AD statement

A committee responsible for overseeing hunting and trapping in Malta has been ordered by cabinet to hold an urgent meeting, with bird activists saying the decision means the government has agreed to open a spring hunting season.

Members of the ORNIS committee have been summoned to the urgent meeting, BirdLife Malta said, “to rubber-stamp a spring hunting season”.

Hunters had last week made a public call for the spring hunting season to be opened, despite coronavirus pandemic restrictions requiring people to stay indoors where possible.

The rules forbid any groups of four or more from gathering in public and require vulnerable groups, including anyone aged 65 or more, to remain indoors unless they are buying essentials, attending a medical appointment, going to the bank or carrying out any urgent essential business.

BirdLife Malta said on Tuesday that the decision to open the hunting season for quail would be “the most irresponsible act ever.”  

It noted that under the terms of a derogation from EU law which Malta applies to allow a hunting season, the police had to assign seven officers per 1,000 hunters to enforce the law.

The police’s Administrative Law Enforcement unit, which is generally responsible for policing hunting laws, has in recent weeks been reassigned to other duties related to the coronavirus pandemic.

“In view of the fact that the police and security forces are stretched and involved in activities related to the COVID-19 crisis, it would not only be impossible for the police to enforce the law, but also a blatant lack of responsibility on the part of the government if the season had to be opened now," BirdLife Malta said.

 “BirdLife Malta understands that the health of the country is a priority, but it cannot accept that the protection of nature takes the back burner,” it added.

20 cases of illegal poaching filmed in 20 days

A call for the authorities not to open the spring hunting season was also made on Tuesday by the Committee Against Bird Slaughter (CABS).

CABS said that once the police could not guarantee strict supervision, it feared a sharp increase in hunting-related illegalities such as shooting of protected species or the use of forbidden electronic lures.

"The last weeks have shown that poachers have already taken advantage of reduced police resources," CABS Wildlife Crime Officer Fiona Burrows said.

She said that since March 9, CABS documented and reported 18 cases of illegal trapping and two cases of hunting during the closed season.

"Illegal bird trapping is rampant and it is obvious that the poachers know that the police have other priorities now. Opening the hunting season would only worsen this situation“, Burrows said.

CABS Press Officer Axel Hirschfeld criticised the hunting federation for calling on the government to lift the spring hunting ban for Turtle Doves.

In the last 25 years Turtle Dove populations have declined by more than 80% in most European countries, CABS said. In its International Single Species Action Plan for the conservation of the Turtle-Dove the European Commission listed illegal hunting and trapping in spring as one of the three main threats to the survival of the species. The plan can be viewed at:  https://ec.europa.eu/environment/nature/conservation/wildbirds/hunting/docs/20181002%20Final_draft_European%20Turtle-Dove.pdf 

AD statement

In a statement, Alternattiva Demokratika said the opening of the spring hunting season, already an anachronism, was uncalled for.

Hunters should be advised to stay indoors like the rest of the community in line with the health authorities' instructions.

AD chairperson Carmel Cacopardo said the police were not in a position to carry out patrols to ensure adequate enforcement as was evident from the multiple cases of illegal hunting reported in the past days.

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