Malta: Ornis, the consultative body on hunting regulations, announces 2014 trapping season.

The Malta Ornis Committee has recommended in principle the application of a derogation under Article 9(1)(c) of the Birds Directive to permit, under strictly supervised conditions and in small numbers, the limited live-capture of seven species of finches beginning in autumn 2014.

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One of many trapped wheaters on Malta

The recommendation was made after the Ornis Committee considered, during three consecutive sessions, the detailed technical, legal and scientific submissions made by the Malta Environment and Planning Authority, the Wild Birds Regulation Unit, BirdLife (Malta) and the Federation for Hunting and Conservation – Malta (FKNK).

As part of the discussion, the Committee deliberated on the legal parameters concerning this derogation, including the extent of applicability of Malta’s Act of Accession, provisions of the Birds Directive and relevant jurisprudence.

The parliamentary secretariat for animal rights said that an analysis of alternatives, consideration of the requirements pertaining to “judicious use”, “small numbers”, as well as “strictly supervised conditions” and enforcement was also carried out.

The Committee discussed the conservation status of the seven finch species, as well as controls to ensure protection of habitats, and that the proposed derogation would be subject to stringent controls and limitations, and would not envisage a general continuation of trapping as it was practiced prior to 2009.

The recommendation was adopted following 5 votes in favour, 1 against and 1 abstention.

The Parliamentary Secretary for Agriculture, Fisheries and Animal Rights has taken note of the above recommendation, as well as the detailed assessment conducted by the Wild Birds Regulation Unit, and will decide accordingly in due course.

The Maltese government last opened a trapping season in September 2012, applying a derogation from the EU ban on trapping of golden plover and song thrush. The rules set seasonal bag limits at 5,000 song thrush and 1,150 golden plover, and the season ran for 83 days between October 2012 and January 2013.

Trapping is banned in the EU and Malta has already received two formal warnings from the European Commission, before the possibility of being taken to the European Court of Justice.

Hunters’ lobby FKNK has already asked the Ornis Committee to effect a derogation from the EU ban on trapping, so that they can take the astounding number of 300,000 Linnet, 900,000 Chaffinch, 500,000 Greenfinch, 400,000 Goldfinch, 300,000 Siskin, 200,000 Serin, and 60,000 Hawfinch over a period of two months trapping season between 7 October until 7 December – permitting a total catch of 2.6 million finches.

Prime Minister Joseph Muscat openly supports demands by hunters and trappers for spring hunting and trapping seasons, and his party has a pre-electoral agreement with the hunting lobby.

On the eve of EU accession in 2004, the Nationalist administration had issued licences to hundreds of trappers who had never had a licence previously. 400 licences alone were furtively issued to Gozitan trappers after pressure from Gozitan politicians in 2002.

Upon EU accession, Malta was granted a 5-year grace period in which to phase out the practice of finch trapping after it joined the EU, however Malta has persisted in opening an autumn trapping season every year since 2009, which has served as a loophole to allow illegal trapping of finches and other protected species to continue.

The authorities had also failed to establish a captive breeding system that should have determined the number of captured wild birds required to sustain genetic diversity, by 2007

Under EU and national law, trapping can only be allowed under strict conditions through a limited derogation from the Birds Directive.

Lino Farrugia, chief executive of the FKNK, had previously complained that there was no legal reason for the government not to open the season for trapping if it has opened it for shooting birds. “If the catchable species – Turtle Dove, Quail, Golden Plover and Song Thrush – can be hunted, government doesn’t need to derogate from the Birds Directive to ‘take birds from the wild’,” he had told MaltaToday, quoting the European law that bans spring hunting. “It’s the State that has to decide how we are to take the birds.”

But BirdLife campaigners have said that Malta can only derogate and allow trapping provided that all the strict conditions set out in the Birds Directive are respected – absence of satisfactory alternative, selectivity, small numbers, judicious use, and strict supervision.

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