Malta: Hunting figures raise suspicions over low reporting by shooters

A turtle dove targeted by hunters in Malta.

A turtle dove targeted by hunters in Malta.

A comparison between the daily number of birds migrating over Malta last autumn and the numbers hunted during the same days raises questions on potential under-reporting by hunters, according to official figures.

Peaks in the migration of turtle doves and quail do not coincide with peaks in terms of the number of birds recorded shot by hunters for both species.

Migration patterns were monitored through a study commissioned by the government, while official hunting figures are based on what hunters declared.

2014 autumn hunting figures were the lowest ever recorded on the island.
Hunting figures show 2,483 turtle doves and 1,689 quail were hunted during last year’s autumn season – the lowest ever figures in the history of recorded autumn hunting seasons. Most hunters declared they did not hunt a single bird in the entire season.

The figures were released ahead of a referendum on April 11, which is to dictate whether spring hunting in Malta should be stopped. Successive governments have always justified the continuation of spring hunting on the grounds that the birds hunted down in autumn are insufficient.

The government attributed the low numbers to the poor extent of autumn migration, as well as the fact that last year’s season was suspended between September 20 and October 11 because of a surge in illegal hunting.

However, the low numbers could also be the result of the fact that official data shows a total of 6,746 of 10,811 (63 per cent) licensed hunters did not report any turtle dove or quail catches last autumn.

The migration study commissioned by the government also showed that turtle dove migration in autumn peaked between September 1 and 15, when the season was open. This contradicted the argument that low hunting figures were a result of the closed period in the season.

Figures have raised eyebrows for a number of reasons.

63% – of hunters did not report any turtle dove or quail catches last autumn

For example, hunters reported shooting 68 turtle doves, when none were observed migrating on September 4 and then reported shooting only eight birds on October 13, when 542 birds were observed migrating. Quail migration did partly coincide with the closed season period, but the number of birds hunters said they shot again does not coincide with peaks in migration.

September 3 was a good day for migration, with over 1,000 quail recorded, yet hunters reported shooting only eight. In the five days between October 13 and 17, no quail were recorded migrating over Malta, yet hunters recorded shooting over 100 birds.

The migration study also showed quail migration is much higher during the autumn hunting season than during the spring season, questioning the validity of a spring hunting derogation for quail.

The government said Malta deploys one of the most elaborate and rigorous hunting bag verification and control regimes anywhere in Europe.

In reality, the hunting data used by Malta to justify the spring hunting derogation is entirely based on what hunters report.

This is not the first year, the data has been questioned.

The Sunday Times of Malta revealed previously that reports sent to the European Commission on the spring hunting derogation over the last three years consistently showed a spike in hunters’ declarations in the last three days of the season.

This led to suspicions hunters were not reporting shot birds early in the season to avoid quotas being reached.

1 comment to Malta: Hunting figures raise suspicions over low reporting by shooters

  • Michelle Babian

    Explain briefly why islanders hunt. Is there s sane reason?

    Editor’s Comment. Michelle, very good question which we are unable to answer,because we do not hunt.