FKNK rep­re­sen­ta­tive re­fuses to vote and storms out of Or­nis Com­mit­tee meet­ing

● BirdLife CEO calls vot­ing process ‘a los­ing bat­tle’ ● Num­ber of birds killed this hunt­ing sea­son up to 52

Malta Independent - - NEWS - Ju­lian Bon­nici

The hunter’s lobby, FKNK stormed out of an Or­nis Com­mit­tee meet­ing on Tues­day fol­low­ing BirdLife CEO Mark Sul­tana’s call for a vote propos­ing that hunt­ing and trap­ping should be pro­hib­ited at Qawra Point. The pro­posal was sup­ported by the Wild Bird Reg­u­la­tion Unit, the gov­ern­ment’s hunt­ing reg­u­la­tory agency.

FKNK sec­re­tary-gen­eral Lino Far­ru­gia re­fused to vote as a sign of protest say­ing that “the Or­nis chair­man made this pro­posal, with­out any valid or jus­ti­fied rea­son, and was im­me­di­ately sup­ported by the WBRU. The ban of hunt­ing from Qawra Point comes in the wake of a sim­i­lar ban on the land known as Tas-Safra, a de­ci­sion that was taken with­out any con­sul­ta­tion and that was not even dis­cussed by the Or­nis Com­mit­tee.”

Mr Sul­tana told The Malta In­de­pen­dent that he pro­posed the vote fol­low­ing re­ports of nu­mer­ous il­le­gal hunt­ing and trap­ping ac­tiv­i­ties tak­ing place in the area due the fact that en­force­ment is very dif­fi­cult to im­pose in the area.

He also said that the ac­tiv­ity also en­dan­gers peo­ple and birds alike since a num­ber of re­ports have in­di­cated that hunters shot birds which float on the sur­face of the wa­ter. The area sees a num­ber of divers go to the area for train­ing cour­ses.

This rup­ture within the Or­nis Com­mit­tee comes im­me­di­ately af­ter four ea­gles had been shot be­tween 1 and 2 Novem­ber dur­ing their mi­gra­tion over Malta, bring­ing up the to­tal of pro­tected birds shot (recorded by BirdLife Malta) up to 52.

Ques­tioned on why BirdLife Malta was yet to make a for­mal pro­posal on the sus­pen­sion of the autumn hunt­ing sea­son whilst si­mul­ta­ne­ously cam­paign­ing for its sus­pen­sion, Mr Sul­tana ad­mit­ted that this seemed odd but in­sisted that this was due to the fact that BirdLife’s vote was prac­ti­cally neg­li­gi­ble and frus­trated the or­gan­i­sa­tion to a point that it al­ways felt like it would be in a “los­ing bat­tle” in the vot­ing process.

The votes are made up as fol­lows: The Chair­man, Profs. Mark An­thony Fal­zon, has one vote. A rep­re­sen­ta­tive of En­vi­ron­ment Re­source Au­thor­ity, Stephen Sal­iba, also has one vote. Three in­de­pen­dent per­sons, all ap­pointed by the min­istry, have three votes. BirdLife has one vote. FKNK has one vote.

Mr Sul­tana has claimed that the three in­de­pen­dent per­sons, Marco Fal­zon, Eme­line Fenech and Guido Bal­dacchino truly act as gov­ern­ment rep­re­sen­ta­tives. He also ex­tended this sen­ti­ment to the votes cast by the Chair­man and the ERA, say­ing that th­ese peo­ple all act in the gov­ern­ment’s in­ter­ests.

Mr Sul­tana pre­vi­ously said that the gov­ern­ment is not in­ter­ested in clos­ing a hunt­ing sea­son so close to an elec­tion, since it would anger a large elec­toral base.

How­ever, Mr Sul­tana main­tained that the duty to sus­pend the hunt­ing sea­son does not fall squarely on the shoul­ders of the Or­nis com­mit­tee, and called on the gov­ern­ment to take th­ese de­ci­sions, go­ing as far to say that the prime min­is­ter and rel­e­vant min­istries should be re­spon­si­ble for tak­ing such tough de­ci­sions.

In fact, Prime Min­is­ter Joseph Mus­cat has twice sus­pended the hunt­ing sea­son with­out any rec­om­men­da­tion of the Or­nis com­mit­tee, first in Septem­ber 2014, af­ter five pro­tected birds had been gunned down. He then sus­pended the sea­son in April 2015, af­ter a pro­tected bird of prey was shot 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.”

Mr Sul­tana then said that the or­gan­i­sa­tion’s cur­rent strat­egy is to increase en­force­ment, the lack of which, he claims, is the rea­son be­hind the nu­mer­ous il­le­gal­i­ties that have taken place over this hunt­ing sea­son, say­ing that “hunters do not com­mit il­le­gal­i­ties for eth­i­cal rea­sons, rather be­cause of fear of get­ting caught”.

In fact, the Com­mit­tee against Bird Slaugh­ter have long said that the lack of en­force­ment in Gozo has led to the area be­com­ing a haven for il­le­gal hunt­ing and trap­ping ac­tiv­i­ties, with the lo­cal po­lice force tak­ing over the du­ties in­stead of the des­ig­nated au­thor­ity, the Ad­min­is­tra­tive Law En­force­ment.

The is­sue sur­round­ing the lack of en­force­ment was on the agenda of the Or­nis Com­mit­tee meet­ing on 5th Oc­to­ber. In the meet­ing the Wild Birds Reg­u­la­tion Unit claimed that fully op­er­a­tional en­force­ment be­gan late this sea­son due to rap­tors mi­grat­ing ear­lier than usual. This, BirdLife claims, is sim­ply not true, point­ing to­wards the or­gan­i­sa­tion’s mul­ti­ple warn­ings re­gard­ing this early mi­gra­tion pat­tern. Ques­tions still re­main why en­force­ment is not fully op­er­a­tional on the day the sea­son opens re­gard­less of mi­gra­tory pat­terns.

That be­ing said, since the meet­ing an­other 21 pro­tected birds were shot, ac­cord­ing to BirdLife records, mak­ing up for nearly half the amount of the to­tal killings that took place so far (52).

Re­ply­ing to ques­tions put for­ward by The Malta In­de­pen­dent, a spokesper­son for the Min­istry for Sus­tain­able De­vel­op­ment, the En­vi­ron­ment and Cli­mate Change said that the num­ber quoted by BirdLife was ac­tu­ally much less.

The same spokesper­son then re­fused to com­ment on whether or not the min­istry would in­ter­vene, point­ing to the de­cline in num­bers ex­pe­ri­enced in pre­vi­ous sea­sons.

The spokesper­son did con­firm that all re­ports re­gard­ing the shoot­ing of the four ea­gles “were duly in­ves­ti­gated and as a re­sult one sus­pect has been ap­pre­hended and placed in po­lice cus­tody, while a num­ber of other in­di­vid­u­als are also be­ing probed in con­nec­tion with th­ese in­ci­dents. In­ves­ti­ga­tions are on­go­ing.”

The Of­fice of the Prime Min­is­ter and the Min­istry or Home Af­fairs and Na­tional Se­cu­rity have not yet re­sponded to ques­tions put for­ward by The Malta In­de­pen­dent.

Booted-Ea­gle

Mark Sul­tana

Mark An­thony Fal­zon

Lino Far­ru­gia

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