Maltese Government overhauls hunting regulations and also doubles penalties for wildlife offences.

 

 Birdlife Malta said that another Short-Toed Eagle was shot down near Buskett yesterday morning, adding it said, to a massacre which started in Gozo yesterday afternoon when a flock of raptors crossed the island and continued in Buskett later in the afternoon.

Malta-Hunters

Police officer in pursuit of illegal hunter

According to Birdlife, around 60 birds of prey flew over Malta and Gozo yesterday, including Ospreys, which, a BirdLife spokesperson said, resulted in more than 35 being shot over the Maltese islands.

In a statement this morning by the Parliamentary Secretariat for Agriculture, Fisheries and Animal Rights, it said that “the Government condemns the illegal shooting of protected eagles in Buskett” and has overhauled hunting regulations, as well as doubled penalties for offences

It said that the Government “condemns, without reservation, the barbaric act of shooting of several protected Booted Eagles that occurred on Wednesday afternoon.”

Roderick Galdes, Parliamentary Secretary for Agriculture, Fisheries and Animal Rights, said that the criminal act is being investigated using all available resources and that any perpetrators will be brought to face the full brunt of the law. He appealed to all hunting organisations, individual hunters and to members of the public to assist the authorities in their investigations.

In order to prevent such acts from occurring in the future, the Government will, on Friday 25th October, be publishing an amendment to Conservation of Wild Birds Regulations, which will result in the introduction of considerably harsher penalties for all forms of serious hunting-related offences.

Commenting on the publication of these regulations, Parliamentary Secretary Roderick Galdes said that the amendment constitutes “the most comprehensive revision of hunting legislation in Malta since the transposition of the EC Birds Directive into Maltese law in 2006.”

Spring-Hunting-in-Malta

Gunman photographed shooting illegally in nature reserve.

“The traditional socio-cultural practice of hunting and live-capturing of wild birds in Malta must respect the principle of sustainability if it is to persist. This is why zero-tolerance policy in relation to wildlife crime is the only way forward. Barbaric criminal acts, such as the one that occurred today have no place in the modern society. This is why a more effective legal deterrent against illegalities is not an end in itself, but a means to guarantee not only the protection of wildlife, but also sustainability of legitimate hunting activities,” the Parliamentary Secretary said.

The Secretariat said that minimum fines for serious hunting offences such as for shooting protected birds or poaching in a bird sanctuary have been doubled, both for first and subsequent convictions, whilst the maximum fines have also been considerably increased, with €15,000 being the maximum applicable fine for repeat offenders.

“The new regime also envisages imprisonment for a period of between 6 months and up to two years, suspension of hunting license for a period of between 2 and 5 years (with the possibility for permanent revocation), as well as confiscation, and the possibility of mandatory community service,” it said.

In parallel with the increase in penalties for serious hunting offences, a new, more effective system for dealing with minor infringements is also being introduced. Minor offences, such as late return of Carnet de Chasse, non-declaration of birds legally hunted or taken, trespassing on clearly marked private property, the use of a bird caller, the carrying of an uncovered shotgun within 200 metres but not closer than 150 metres from an inhabited area, the use of a small scale portable cage-trap and possession of a firearm with a magazine capable of holding more than 2 shots, will be subject to automatic administrative fines and will no longer require court action.

The Secretariat said that the magnitude of these fines is comparable in scale to the fines currently meted out for these offences by the courts, however the new system has the advantage of dealing with such infringements more swiftly and effectively without the need to resort to costly and lengthy court proceedings.

Administrative fines would only apply where such minor offences are not committed in the presence of any aggravating factors or in conjunction with any other offence under these regulations, in which case offenders will be charged before Court of Magistrates and upon conviction will be liable to the increased penalties stipulated under new regulations.

Offenders served with an administrative fine will have recourse to appeal procedure before Administrative Review Tribunal. The new amendments also presume that unless any outstanding fines have been paid, licenses will not be renewed.

In order to strengthen deterrent against illegal targeting of protected birds even further, the Government said itt has included ten further bird species within a new schedule, which will effectively ensure that any crimes committed in relation to these birds will be liable to the same increased levels of penalty that would apply to crimes committed against birds already enjoying the highest level of legal protection (schedule I birds).

The new regulations also contain a plethora of other revisions, which, amongst other, clarify and rectify a number of technical discrepancies arising out of the present regulations, particularly those concerning licensing and Carnet de Chasse.

The regulations also provide legal basis for the functioning of the newly-established Wild Birds Regulation Unit, and generally raise the standard of hunting governance by stipulating, for example, the minimum standards that a hunting organisation must fulfil in order to be recognised for the purpose of these regulations.

Sergei Golovkin, who heads the Wild Birds Regulation Unit, which spearheaded these amendments said that the present legal reform complements other ongoing initiatives, such as increase in enforcement presence and better coordination in the field during hunting season, the planned establishment of a Wildlife Crime Investigation Unit and the development of a national strategy for the eradication of illegal killing, trade and trapping of wild birds.

“The recently published analysis of enforcement statistics pertaining to autumn hunting season indicates that there is a clear positive trend with regards to the reduction in the number of incidents involving serious hunting crimes, as well as increase in the disclosure of minor offences.”

“Unfortunately, Thursday’s incident underscores the fact that notwithstanding the overall positive trend, much more still remains to be done to combat illegalities, particularly the illegal targeting of protected species. The present legal amendments therefore aim at providing a more credible deterrent against serious crime, whilst at the same time ensuring a more effective system for dealing with minor offences,” he said.

The amendments have been published following rapid but intensive consultations with the relevant stakeholders, including the police, representatives of the hunting community, Birdlife Malta and the Malta Ornis Committee.

Increase in penalties for serious hunting offences is available for download here.
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