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