The hunters federation (FKNK) and Kaccaturi San Umbertu (KSU) association said this afternoon that a decision by the government to close the hunting season till October 10 amounted to collective punishment.

"Collective Punishment is unjustified and can never be accepted in a civilized society," the FKNK said.

The government said it was closing the season following repeated shooting of protected birds over the past few days. 

The FKNK said the decision was "a grave mistake" and a line of action that weakened the Government’s own position, in that it had given in to criminals rather than continue to strengthen legal hunting, which, the federation said, had progressed immensely over the last decade.  

It said wrongdoers were found in all sectors of society. Therefore, it was wrong that the government had decided to punish the innocent rather than just the individual wrongdoer.

"This is a clear discriminatory action against legal hunters and can never be accepted.

"Pending clarification, and hopefully rectification, the FKNK hereby states that it is suspending its participation from all official related bodies in which it is currently represented.

"Furthermore, and pending any legal action that the FKNK may decide to take to safeguard its and its members interests at law, the FKNK may contemplate other measures of protest," the federation said.

GOVERNMENT: THIS SHOULD SERVE AS A WARNING

Earlier, the government said it has closed the autumn hunting season with immediate effect after 'criminal persons' had 'in a continuous manner' over the past few days shot at a bigger than usual influx of protected birds. 

The government said it had been clear from the outset that while it wanted to safeguard the rights of hunters it would not tolerate criminal acts, especially those by persons who appeared to be conducted premeditated poaching for commercial reasons. 

While the majority of hunters were responsible in their actions, the small minority was undermining hunting to the detriment of the others. 

Law enforcement was currently at the highest levels but some people still thought they could do what they liked. Police and court action had not served as deterrent and drastic action was therefore needed. 

The government was therefore closing the hunting season until October 10, when migration would be over. 

"This should be a warning to everybody. It should, in particular, serve for the responsible hunters to increase their collaboration with the police and help them catch these criminals, some of whom are making money while spoiling other people's pastime," the government said.

PN WELCOMES DECISION

The Nationalist Party welcomed the government's decision. It said illegal hunting was, by definition, illegal, and could not be tolerated. The same position was adopted by the former government in 2007 after several cases of illegal hunting. 

However, the PN said, the cases seen in the past few days were not a coincidence. The government had transmitted a clear signal that it would tolerate illegality.  This was evident through a big number of transfers among the officers in the police ALE section and the removal of the curfew on hunting till 3 p.m. 

The decision to close the season would have been avoided had the government been more serious at the outset.

BIRDLIFE WANTS MORE ACTION

BirdLife Malta welcomed the decision.

BirdLife Malta Executive Director, Steve Micklewright, said, “The government has repeatedly stated that it will not tolerate the illegal hunting of protected species of bird. Today’s announcement shows the government are prepared to take appropriate steps when hunters behave without any respect for the law, as they have done in recent days.” 

"However the killing of the storks is just the tip of the iceberg as far as illegal hunting in Malta is concerned," Mr Micklewright continued, “BirdLife and CABS have witnessed a wide range of types of bird being illegally targeted by hunters in the past few days alone, including osprey and lesser kestrel. The closure of the season will enable better enforcement because legal hunting cannot now be used as cover for illegal activities.”

While welcoming the government’s decision BirdLife Malta said it was calling for an urgent review of the regulations surrounding autumn hunting and the decision-making processes that create the regulations, stating that the decision to remove the 3pm curfew on hunting was a clear demonstration that the current system did not work. 

It said the Ornis Committee should contain more voting experts in bird conservation and hunting, and the reports it receives for consideration by government officials should be objective and based on scientific evidence, enabling balanced recommendations to be made. 

CABS TO CONTINUE MONITORING THE COUNTRYSIDE

Cabs also welcomed the government's decision.

“We raise our hats to the Prime minister for having the nerve to make this momentous decision. I am sure it was a tough call but the situation was really out of control in parts of the island.”, Cabs president Heinz Schwarze said.

“After months of empty rethoric coming from his Parliamentary Secretary for Animal Rights Dr Muscat has shown that he really means business”.

CABS said it hopes that this “milestone decision” will also lead to a change of thinking within the hunting organisations forcing them to strengthen their efforts to remove bad seeds out of their own ranks.

The NGO announced that its team will monitor the countryside with powerful spotting scopes to ensure that the ban is respected and to report all violations to the police.

ST HUBERT HUNTERS SLAM DECISION

Kaccaturi San Umbertu (St Hubert Hunting Association) said the governent's decision was a counter-productive measure that reflected badly on the government’s immense efforts to regulate hunting.

"By Government’s own admission 'the small minority undermining hunting to the detriment of others' was the cause to castigate 'the majority that are responsible in their actions'" the association said.

"Although we unreservedly condemn any hunting-related illegal activity, on behalf of all our members and thousands of other law abiding hunters we consider the measures taken as draconian in this day and age where dialogue and proper consultation do lead to the best solution to any such problem.

"In view of the anticipated appointment of Karmenu Vella as the next Environment Commissioner (for the environment) we look forward to Malta setting the example of how the plague of wildlife crime throughout all the EU member states is to be tackled in a more appropriate manner," the association said.

It said it had already made suggestions to facilitate the reporting of any illegal activity and it hoped that before this suspension was lifted these measures would be incorporated in the laws.

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