Au­tumn hunt­ing mora­to­rium now

Malta Independent - - DEBATE & ANALYSIS -

With the killing of yet another pro­tected bird yes­ter­day, a Honey Buz­zard, the toll of il­le­gal hunt­ing on pro­tected bird species so far this au­tumn sea­son has risen to 21 birds that have ac­tu­ally been recorded as hav­ing been il­le­gally shot.

As such, it is high time that the gov­ern­ment pulls the plug on this year’s au­tumn hunt­ing sea­son, at least un­til the an­nual mi­gra­tion of pro­tected species wraps up some­time in mid-in Oc­to­ber. The self-reg­u­la­tion that the hunter’s lob­bies have spo­ken of so en­dear­ingly ap­pears to be fail­ing mis­er­ably.

The sit­u­a­tion is now be­yond ridicu­lous: the gov­ern­ment must take im­me­di­ate ac­tion and ap­ply a zero tol­er­ance pol­icy to il­le­gal hunt­ing. As the death toll con­tin­ues to rise, the gov­ern­ment’s en­vi­ron­men­tal rat­ing will con­tinue to plum­met with equal speed.

The fact that it is, in re­al­ity, a few bad ap­ples within the hunt­ing com­mu­nity that are caus­ing the prob­lem is ir­rel­e­vant. It is only when each and ev­ery hunter is well aware that their ac­tions will have a last­ing ef­fect on their fel­low hunters, and the reper­cus­sions that could come with that, that they will find it within them­selves to rec­tify their ways.

The gov­ern­ment was re­cently ready to back a call from hunters’ lob­bies to ap­ply a mora­to­rium on spring hunt­ing, so as to re-en­force their ar­gu­ment that Malta’s hunt­ing prac­tices have noth­ing to do with the de­cline in global num­bers of tur­tle­doves.

ONE YEAR LATER

Last year Malta had in­sisted on open­ing the spring hunt­ing sea­son and al­low for the hunt­ing of 5,000 tur­tle­doves, de­spite calls from the In­ter­na­tional Union for Con­ser­va­tion of Na­ture (IUCN), which had placed the species on its red list, and the Euro­pean Com­mis­sion, which had warned at the time that Malta would have to jus­tify its de­ci­sion.

But when the coun­try’s hunt­ing lob­bies this year pro­posed a mora­to­rium on the spring hunt­ing of the tur­tle­dove – to sup­pos­edly prove that Malta’s hunters are not re­spon­si­ble for the species de­cline in num­bers – the gov­ern­ment backed that call.

This move ap­pears to have been mo­ti­vated by one over­rid­ing ex­i­gency: to avoid the per­ma­nent clo­sure of the spring hunt­ing sea­son.

This sug­gests yet another close col­lab­o­ra­tion be­tween the coun­try’s main hunt­ing lobby after the gov­ern­ment re­ceived word that the Euro­pean Com­mis­sion is to open yet another round of in­fringe­ment pro­ceed­ings against Malta over the du­bi­ous prac­tice. Such a move threat­ens to land Malta back at the Euro­pean Court of Justice, where a rul­ing against Malta, which ap­pears all the more likely given the sta­tus of the tur­tle­dove, would fi­nally close the spring hunt­ing sea­son once and for all.

The call for a mora­to­rium, swiftly backed by the gov­ern­ment, ap­pears to back up this the­sis. This, how­ever, ap­pears to be a stop­gap mea­sure aimed at paci­fy­ing Brus­sels and to en­sure that spring hunt­ing is not per­ma­nently wiped off the statute books for good.

While the con­cept of a spring tur­tle­dove mora­to­rium is wel­comed, as is any move to limit the fur­ther de­cline of any species – the rea­sons at play be­hind the scenes need to be ex­am­ined.

The gov­ern­ment has claimed re­peat­edly that it one that “lis­tens” but in the par­tic­u­lar case of the hunters’ call for the spring mora­to­rium on tur­tle­dove hunt­ing, it is one that ap­par­ently only lis­tens to hunters – and not to the sci­en­tists at the ICUN or the pol­icy mak­ers at the Com­mis­sion.

The gov­ern­ment must, once and for all, give no quar­ter to these bla­tant law­break­ers and ap­ply a zero tol­er­ance pol­icy to all forms of il­le­gal hunt­ing. After all, its cred­i­bil­ity is on the line in more se­ri­ous terms than merely fac­ing another slap on the wrist or puni­tive fines from the Euro­pean Court of Justice – il­le­gal hunt­ing is crim­i­nal and in­di­vid­u­als can­not be al­lowed to run ram­pant and flout the law of the land with im­punity.

If the gov­ern­ment is to prove its met­tle, it should im­me­di­ately move to close the cur­rent au­tumn sea­son, or at least sus­pend it un­til the mi­gra­tion of pro­tected birds con­cludes, in the face of the il­le­gal­i­ties that ap­pear to be tak­ing place with rel­a­tive im­punity.

Is the gov­ern­ment wait­ing for per­mis­sion from the hunt­ing lob­bies to close or sus­pend the sea­son? And if not, what, ex­actly, is the gov­ern­ment wait­ing for?

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