Malta announces finch trapping season in face of EU legal action
● 27,500 finches legally put up for grabs
The government announced on Friday the opening of the bird trapping season, despite the fact that Malta is facing legal action by the European Commission over allowing the trapping of seven species of finch.
The bird trapping season will open on 20 October and will close on 31 December, according to a Legal Notice published on Friday.
The government has allowed for the trapping of a total of 33,200 birds – 27,500 of which are finches. Each trapping licence holder will be allowed to trap 10 finches during the season, and six song thrushes or golden plovers – meaning that each trapper will be allowed a total of 16 birds over the nine-week season.
In September 2015 the European Commission referred Malta to the European Court of Justice for its decision to allow finch trapping as of 2014. Malta was allowed a transitional arrangement in the EU Accession Treaty to phase out finch trapping, taking into account the time required to establish a captive breeding programme. This transitional arrangement expired in 2008.
The current case before the European Court of Justice concerns Malta’s decision to allow the live capture of seven species of wild finches as from 2014. In the EU, the capture and keeping of bird species such as finches is generally prohibited. Member states may, however, derogate from the strict protection requirement if there is no other satisfactory solution and if the derogation is used judiciously, with small numbers and under strict supervision.
In Malta’s case, such conditions are not being met, hence the EC’s legal action.
The Commission sent a letter of formal notice in October 2014, when it reopened the trapping season, urging Malta to refrain from finch trapping. Despite the warning, Malta went ahead as planned with the opening of a finch trapping season in 2014.
The Commission then sent a reasoned opinion in May 2015 urging Malta to end the practice. Malta replied, contesting the Commission’s analysis and since it has not committed to end finch trapping, the Commission has decided to refer Malta to the European Court of Justice.
In Europe, many species of wild birds are in decline, and markedly so in some cases. This decline disturbs the biological balance and is a serious threat to the natural environment. The Directive on the conservation of wild birds aims to protect all species of wild birds that occur naturally in the Union.
The Directive bans activities that directly threaten birds such as deliberate killing or capture, the destruction of nests and removal of eggs and associated activities such as trading in live or dead birds, with a few exceptions. It also places great emphasis on the protection of habitats for endangered and migratory species, especially through the Finches Total seasonal bag limit Linnet 12,000 Goldfinch 800 Greenfinch 4,500 Siskin 2,350 Hawfinch 500 Chaffinch 5,000 Serin 2,350 Total 27,500 Seasonal bag limit per licence: 10
Total seasonal bag limit Song Thrush 5,000 Golden Plover 700 Total 5,700 Seasonal bag limit per licence: 6
establishment of a network of Special Protection Areas (SPAs).
Article 9 of the Directive provides limited scope for derogations from the requirement of strict protection where there is no other satisfactory solution, for instance, in the interests of public health and safety or air safety, to prevent serious damage to crops, livestock, forests, fisheries and water, and for the protection of flora and fauna. Derogations may also be permitted for the purposes of research and teaching, repopulation, reintroduction and for the breeding necessary for these purposes.
Former Maltese Minister turned EU Environment Commissioner Karmenu Vella has been in direct conflict with the same government that, after making him Commissioner, has ignored his repeated calls to put an end to finch trapping, bluntly saying that Malta’s finch trapping season is “in breach of EU law”.
In comments to this newsroom last September, when the Commission decided to take Malta before the ECJ, Mr Vella said: “Our position remains that such practice is in breach of EU law that is in place to protect Europe’s birds and habitats, hence the College of Commissioners’ decision to refer Malta to the Court of Justice of the European Union over finch trapping.
“The Commission, as guardian of the Treaties, remains fully committed to ensuring that the Maltese legislative framework on trapping derogations strictly respects Union law.”