Sus­pen­sion of the au­tumn hunt­ing sea­son not cur­rently jus­ti­fied – Par­lia­men­tary Sec­re­tary Spokesper­son

● Or­nis Com­mit­tee yet to make rec­om­men­da­tion

Malta Independent - - NEWS - Ju­lian Bon­nici

There will be no sus­pen­sion of the au­tumn hunt­ing sea­son ac­cord­ing to a spokesper­son for the Par­lia­men­tary Sec­re­tary for Agri­cul­ture, Fish­eries and An­i­mal Rights, in spite of the shoot­ing of 33 pro­tected birds and 102 il­le­gal­i­ties recorded by BirdLife Malta alone, with the gov­ern­ment claim­ing that tech­ni­cal jus­ti­fi­ca­tions for its clo­sure are not present to­day.

In pre­vi­ous state­ments by the Of­fice of the Prime Min­is­ter it was claimed that the sus­pen­sion of the hunt­ing sea­son rests in the hands of the Or­nis Com­mit­tee.

The Malta In­de­pen­dent was in­formed that the Or­nis Com­mit­tee has not made any rec­om­men­da­tions to the gov­ern­ment re­gard­ing the is­sue, and that this “au­ton­o­mous ex­pert body” has con­ducted one for­mal meet­ing since the open­ing of the au­tumn hunt­ing sea­son on 1 Septem­ber 2016.

As was pre­vi­ously re­ported, the gov­ern­ment-ap­pointed Chair­man of said com­mit­tee, Profs. Mark An­thony Fal­zon, re­fuses to com­ment on the sit­u­a­tion.

The Malta In­de­pen­dent was also in­formed that in the meet­ing the Ad­min­is­tra­tive Law En­force­ment (a task force that en­sures le­gal hunt­ing ac­tiv­i­ties) at­trib­uted the cur­rent spike in il­le­gal­i­ties to the early mi­gra­tion of rap­tors, claim­ing that it meant that the build-up of en­force­ment pres­ence in the field had not yet reached its planned strength. Why full en­force­ment does not be­gin the day the hunt­ing sea­son opens re­mains a mys­tery.

BirdLife CEO Mark Sul­tana openly crit­i­cised this “ex­cuse” claim­ing that had the gov­ern­ment lis­tened to the NGOs ear­lier calls for the sus­pen­sion of the au­tumn hunt­ing sea­son due to the mi­gra­tion of birds of prey then “this year’s mas­sacre would have been avoided”.

He also claimed that the or­gan­i­sa­tion has wit­nessed sev­eral il­le­gal­i­ties, some in­volv­ing swal­lows, in the past few days.

How­ever, the sus­pen­sion of the hunt­ing sea­son does not rest squarely on the shoul­ders of the Or­nis Com­mit­tee. Ac­cord­ing to the Con­ser­va­tion of Wild Birds Reg­u­la­tions, a min­is­ter can “ex­er­cise his own dis­cre­tion“in the sus­pen­sion of the hunt­ing sea­son with or with­out any rec­om­men­da­tion from the Or­nis Com­mit­tee in a sit­u­a­tion “which the min­is­ter deems to be of suf­fi­cient grav­ity”.

In fact, Prime Min­is­ter Joseph Mus­cat sus­pended the hunt­ing sea­son twice be­fore with­out any rec­om­men­da­tion from the Or­nis Com­mit­tee.

This, ac­cord­ing to the spokesper­son, proved that “the gov­ern­ment did not shy away from tak­ing bold de­ci­sions and im­ple­ment­ing them” when it comes to tack­ling the is­sue. How­ever, it does not be­lieve that the same “tech­ni­cal jus­ti­fi­ca­tions are present to­day”, in spite of the fact that far more of­fences have taken place in this hunt­ing sea­son.

The gov­ern­ment first in­ter­vened in Septem­ber 2014, after five pro­tected birds had been gunned down. In a state­ment re­leased fol­low­ing the sus­pen­sion, the Of­fice of the Prime Min­is­ter had in­sisted that they “were clear from the start that while agree­ing that hun­ters’ rights should be pro­tected, abuses will not be tol­er­ated.”

The prime min­is­ter had again sus­pended the hunt­ing sea­son three days ahead of is of­fi­cial clo­sure back in April 2015 when a pro­tected bird of prey was shot down by a hunter and fell into the foot­ball pitch of a school in Cot­ton­era. Speak­ing on the in­ci­dent, Dr Mus­cat had said that “de­spite sharp de­cline in il­le­gal­i­ties, to­day’s hunt­ing in­ci­dent is in­ex­cus­able. I have de­cided to im­me­di­ately close down the sea­son.”

Whilst the shoot­ing of one pro­tected bird should be a cause for alarm, it pales in com­par­i­son to the 33 that have been killed in this year’s au­tumn hunt­ing sea­son. It begs the ques­tion as to why the gov­ern­ment has changed its po­si­tion since. The Of­fice of the Prime Min­is­ter has not re­sponded to nu­mer­ous emails sent by The Malta In­de­pen­dent re­gard­ing its cur­rent po­si­tion on the mat­ter.

Mark Sul­tana at­tributes the gov­ern­ment’s ‘in­er­tia’ in tack­ling the is­sue to a num­ber of fac­tors. It was just last week that Sul­tana ques­tioned why en­force­ment tended to de­crease closer to an elec­tion.

Whilst he praised the de­crease in il­le­gal­i­ties that was wit­nessed in pre­vi­ous years, the gov­ern­ment has made a ‘clear psy­cho­log­i­cal in­di­ca­tion’ to the hunt­ing com­mu­nity that they will not en­force reg­u­la­tion. Mr Sul­tana made it clear that when it comes to the en­vi­ron­ment, more specif­i­cally hunt­ing, the gov­ern­ment re­fuses to act.

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