Opening a spring hunting season in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic will put "unnecessary strain" on already-stretched police resources, according to senior law enforcement sources.
The government’s Ornis committee is meeting on Wednesday afternoon to discuss whether or not to open a spring hunting season that would see thousands of hunters take to the countryside as of next week.
On Tuesday, conservationists said the government appeared to have already decided in favour of opening a spring hunting season for quail and said the Ornis committee would be "rubber-stamping" that decision.
Hunters have already come out in favour of opening a season despite coronavirus pandemic restrictions requiring people to stay indoors where possible.
The laws forbid 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.
While hunters do not tend to congregate in large groups, opening a hunting season risks complicating the public health effort by diverting police resources away from the effort to suppress COVID-19.
ALE officers tasked with quarantine checks
The police’s Administrative Law Enforcement department, which normally oversees the hunting season, has in recent weeks been deployed to ensure quarantine and other life-preserving measures announced by health authorities are obeyed.
Sources told Times of Malta that currently, every member of the ALE department is working to enforce quarantine laws.
An expert in the field of hunting enforcement told Times of Malta that opening a season would mean a major bureaucratic headache for the police.
ALE already under-resourced
The spring hunt in Malta is possible because the country applies a derogation - exemption - from the EU’s Birds Directive.
In order to apply this exemption, Malta must ensure that there are at least seven officers for every 1,000 hunters policing the spring hunt on any given day.
There are roughly 9,600 registered hunters in Malta, and only around 20 officers with the police force's ALE.
That means that to abide by the EU minimum requirement of assigning seven officers for every 1,000 hunters, the police regularly engages district officers and Armed Forces members to help monitor hunting.
Also, according to the parameters of the derogation, spot checks must be carried out to check for special licences.
“Which government in their right mind would contemplate putting added strain on the country’s key resource, at the most critical moment of a crisis of this magnitude?” the source asked, noting that April was likely to be a key month in the fight against coronavirus.
Meanwhile, law enforcement sources said that policing a hunting season in the current situation was not impossible, but would certainly put added strain on police resources.
Other units would have to be roped in to help manage the tasks required, and in practice, this would be a “major headache” for the police, the sources said.
Birdlife international writes to Abela
In a statement, Birdlife International chief executive Patricia Zurita said she had written to Prime Minister Robert Abela urging him not to open a hunting season this month.
“Unfortunately I got the news that your government is considering a hunting season in the weeks to come. While this contradicts drastically what Europe is promoting amidst the COVID-19 crisis and the visionary Green Deal, I find it baffling that a progressive party like yours resists change in favour of nature, in particular bird protection. One surely needs to be courageous to bring about change which might effect a very noisy lobby,” the letter reads.