Au­tumn sea­son to start Fri­day, but Or­nis Com­mit­tee has not yet met

Malta Independent - - FRONT PAGE - Kevin Schem­bri Or­land

The au­tumn hunt­ing sea­son is to start on Fri­day, yet the Or­nis Com­mit­tee, tasked with over­see­ing the prac­tice, has not yet met, BirdLife Malta said yes­ter­day.

The NGO said it was con­cerned that this com­mit­tee was still not func­tion­ing a few days be­fore the sea­son was set to be­gin. The com­mit­tee had been dis­solved af­ter the elec­tion and had not been re-ap­pointed yet, BirdLife Malta said, adding that it had pre­sented a letter to the Prime Min­is­ter. In con­trast, how­ever, the En­vi­ron­ment Min­istry said that the board had in­deed been ap­proved and mem­bers were be­ing no­ti­fied. Re­tired Mag­is­trate Den­nis Mon­te­bello will pre­side over the board as chair­man. Sergei Golovkin will be the board’s sec­re­tary, and the board will in­clude other mem­bers from the hunt­ing lob­bies and the NGOs who work for the pro­tec­tion of birds.

The au­tumn hunt­ing sea­son, the NGO ex­plained, will be­gin on 1 Septem­ber and last for five months. The Or­nis Com­mit­tee is com­posed of rep­re­sen­ta­tives from BirdLife Malta, the FKNK, the En­vi­ron­ment and Re­sources Au­thor­ity and the Wild Birds Reg­u­la­tion Unit (WBRU), while oc­ca­sion­ally sum­mon­ing the Malta Po­lice Force when it comes to en­force­ment is­sues.

The NGO’s CEO, Mark Sul­tana, said that the law al­lows for the killing of 40 bird species dur­ing the au­tumn hunt­ing sea­son, which will end on 31 Jan­uary. “The rest of the species are pro­tected both by local and in­ter­na­tional law.” The NGO ap­pealed to ev­ery­one to ob­serve the law.

It called on gov­ern­ment and the po­lice ALE unit to place en­vi­ron­men­tal law en­force­ment as a pri­or­ity dur­ing this pe­riod, “in which 10,000 hunters could be out in Malta’s coun­try­side to hunt. Dur­ing the past four au­tumns, BirdLife Malta re­ceived a to­tal of around 100 il­le­gally shot pro­tected birds. This is only the tip of the ice­berg, rep­re­sent­ing only a small per­cent­age of the to­tal num­ber of birds which are il­le­gally shot dur­ing the hunt­ing sea­son.”

In their letter to the Prime Min­is­ter, the NGO said that over the past years, they noted a lack of po­lice pres­ence in the coun­try­side, re­sult­ing in an in­crease in il­le­gal­i­ties.

The NGO also ex­pressed con­cern that a num­ber of pro­tected birds were shot dur­ing the closed sea­son.

“With ref­er­ence to pre­vi­ous state­ments about re­duc­ing fines and penal­ties, we re­it­er­ate that this would only ben­e­fit those who break the law, as these fines are the only de­ter­rent against the shoot­ing of pro­tected species and are meant to dis­cour­age the prac­tice.”

In a state­ment later in the day, En­vi­ron­ment Min­is­ter Jose Her­rera said that he would meet with the com­mit­tee in the com­ing days, while stress­ing that this sea­son would be reg­u­lated by Or­nis, “as ev­ery other sea­son has been.”

The min­is­ter said that over the past years, progress had been seen when it comes to en­force­ment. The num­ber of en­force­ment of­fi­cials, he added, had dou­bled since be­fore 2013, while the num­ber of on-site in­spec­tions had in­creased four­fold. “The num­ber of pro­tected birds which were in­jured or killed has sig­nif­i­cantly de­creased.”

Gov­ern­ment state­ment

As was also the case in pre­vi­ous years, ac­cord­ing to Con­ser­va­tion of Wild Birds Reg­u­la­tions (S.L. 549.42), the hunt­ing of birds on land shall be per­mit­ted be­tween 1 Septem­ber and 31 Jan­uary, be­tween two hours be­fore sun­rise and two hours af­ter sun­set on any day be­tween Mon­day and Satur­day, and be­tween two hours be­fore sun­rise and 1pm on Sun­days and Pub­lic Hol­i­days. How­ever, the hunt­ing of birds on land be­tween 15 Septem­ber and 7 Oc­to­ber (in­clu­sive of both dates) shall not be per­mit­ted from Mon­day to Satur­day be­tween 7pm and two hours be­fore sun­rise the fol­low­ing day.

The same time re­stric­tions also ap­ply to the hunt­ing of wild rab­bit, which is per­mit­ted un­til 31 De­cem­ber.

The hunt­ing of birds at sea shall be per­mit­ted be­tween 1 Oc­to­ber and 31 Jan­uary dur­ing the same times as those ap­pli­ca­ble to hunt­ing on land, pro­vided that be­tween 1 Oc­to­ber and 7 Oc­to­ber, in­clu­sive of both dates, hunt­ing at sea shall not be per­mit­ted from Mon­day to Satur­day be­tween 7 pm and two hours be­fore sun­rise the fol­low­ing day.

Hunters can only hunt the species for which they are li­censed ac­cord­ing to their li­cence cat­e­gory.

In line with Le­gal No­tice 69 of 2016, li­censed hunters are re­quired to re­port the birds caught via tele­phone re­port­ing sys­tem prior to leav­ing the hunt­ing area in ac­cor­dance with in­struc­tions as stip­u­lated in the in­for­ma­tion book­let dis­trib­uted to­gether with hunt­ing li­cences.

Due to re-clas­si­fi­ca­tion of the le­gal sta­tus of Red Breasted Mer­ganser (Mer­gus ser­ra­tor) in 2016, the hunt­ing of this species is no longer per­mit­ted. More­over, ac­cord­ing to Le­gal No­tice 77 of 2016, hunt­ing of Tur­tle Doves (Strep­topelia tur­tur) shall be per­mit­ted be­tween 1 and 30 Septem­ber only, sub­ject to max­i­mum na­tional quota of 7,000 birds. Tar­get­ing of the Tur­tle Dove out­side of this pe­riod is not per­mit­ted.

The Wild Birds Reg­u­la­tion Unit notes with sat­is­fac­tion that ex­em­plary im­prove­ments in com­pli­ance achieved over the past three years pro­duced ex­tremely vis­i­ble pos­i­tive change that was hardly con­ceiv­able in the past. How­ever, this progress, which is a re­sult of co­op­er­a­tion be­tween the gov­ern­ment, mem­bers of the hunt­ing com­mu­nity, and bird pro­tec­tion NGOs, needs to be fur­ther main­tained and con­sol­i­dated.

While call­ing upon all hunters and hunt­ing or­gan­i­sa­tions to con­tinue to adopt a zero-tol­er­ance ap­proach to il­le­gal­i­ties, the unit and other law en­force­ment en­ti­ties shall con­tinue to rig­or­ously mon­i­tor and en­force com­pli­ance with ap­pli­ca­ble reg­u­la­tions through field sur­veil­lance, spot checks and in­spec­tions.

While wish­ing a good sea­son to all hunters, Par­lia­men­tary Sec­re­tary for Agri­cul­ture, Fish­eries and An­i­mal Rights Clint Camil­leri calls for hunters to ob­serve the laws so that hunt­ing is af­ter all safe­guarded.

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