Suspension of the autumn hunting season not currently justified – Parliamentary Secretary Spokesperson
● Ornis Committee yet to make recommendation
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.