BirdLife Malta said today that the Spring hunting season confirmed by the government yesterday was  nothing more than an executed political promise which went against the spirit of strict supervision and selectivity, required for the correct application of a derogation to the Birds Directive.

It added that the waiving of license fees guaranteed a free for all spring hunting season reminiscent of seasons which landed Malta before the European Court of Justice in 2009. The removal of the mandatory armband would weaken strict supervision and enforcement measures, currently a bone of contention with the European Commission, the society said.

It explained that while spring hunting seasons are banned by the Birds Directive, exceptions can be made through the application of derogation, “to permit, under strictly supervised conditions and on a selective basis, the capture, keeping or other judicious use of certain birds in small numbers.” 

In 2009, the European Court of Justice found Malta guilty of not abiding to these conditions when it opened spring hunting seasons in 2004, 2005, 2006 and 2007 for all licensed hunters and without limits.

Following the ECJ ruling, Malta persisted in the opening of spring hunting seasons issuing framework legislation in 2010, as a result of which the Commission re-opened infringement procedures serving Malta with a first warning in 2011. The latest warning concerned three shortcomings in the 2010 legislation, namely that there was no consideration of the conservation status of Turtle Dove and Quail, there was no link to the number of birds hunted in autumn, and that the quotas considered were too high to ensure sustainability.

The warning led to a revision of spring hunting framework legislation in 2011, which introduced measures such as lower revised bag limits depending on the autumn catches of Turtle Dove and Quail, a maximum €50 licence fee, strict supervision conditions such as a ratio of 7 police officers per 1000 licensed hunters whereas it kept measures such as the mandatory armband and a special spring hunting license fee. This framework legislation formed the basis of the 2011 and 2012 spring hunting seasons.

Nicholas Barbara, BirdLife Malta’s conservation manager said that in view of the removal of the special licence, one was probably looking at a spring hunting season where up to 10,600 hunters were licensed to hunt 11,000 Turtle Dove and 5,000 Quail. "With the blatant abuse of the SMS reporting system we have seen over the past two years, and an average of one Turtle Dove and half a Quail for each hunter, we can pretty much assume how much of this season shall be a free for all to everyone.”