The new Labour Government’s decision on spring hunting season has disappointed the hunting community and elicited the anger of Birdlife, which described it as a backward step.

We have Dr Muscat’s word that what was promised to us will be delivered

Following a proposal made by the new Ornis Committee, the Government on Monday announced the parameters of this year’s spring hunting season – unveiled hours after Prime Minister Joseph Muscat held a closed-doors meeting with the hunters’ lobby.

The Government decided to retain last year’s season’s conditions, save for increasing two days of hunting, lifting a €50 fee on the licence to hunt in spring and eliminating the necessity to wear an identification arm band.

The hunters were hoping for significant changes following Labour’s success at the polls, particularly on the time and days in which they could practise their hobby.

“The situation is that it’s better than what we had but surely not enough. We were expecting more,” FKNK secretary Lino Farrugia told The Times.

He said the Government could have easily accepted their proposals, particularly to extend the hunting hours during weekdays and to also let them hunt on Sundays. Mr Farrugia said the Government told hunters it was not yet prepared for this move.

“The Prime Minister told us that more studies are needed. We will now wait to see what happens next year and we have Dr Muscat’s word that what was promised to us will be delivered,” he said.

According to this year’s rules, the national bag limit will remain the same as last year – 11,000 turtle doves and 5,000 quails. Hunting will also remain banned after 3pm during weekends, all afternoons on Saturdays and all day on Sunday.

On the other hand, Birdlife, which voted against the Ornis recommendations last Saturday, described the Government’s decision as “not well thought out” and “a step backwards”.

Birdlife president Joseph Mangion said the few changes announced by the Government would increase pressure on Malta by the European Commission as the lack of observation of rules is likely to increase.

“We think we need more enforcement and not less,” Mr Mangion said in reference to the removal of the special licence fee and the arm band, which made hunters more identifiable in the countryside.

“These measures were part of a package to try to ensure more enforcement. Taking them away will result in more illegal hunting,” he said.

Mr Mangion said Birdlife also disagreed with the extra two days of hunting allowed this year, arguing there was no need for this increase.

The European Commission, which according to Mr Mangion, is already dissatisfied with the level of enforcement of last year’s season, has so far not made any comments on the decision.

Under EU rules, spring hunting is banned across the EU, but member states can apply derogations if they satisfy certain conditions.

Following a court decision in 2009, Malta was allowed to have a short and restricted spring season under strict conditions.

The Commission had warned that it would take Malta back to court if the conditions of this short season fail to respect the court’s decision.