Under threat of EU closure, Malta not ruling out new trapping season

The re-opening of the trapping season in Malta has not yet been ruled out, but could soon be outlawed by the European Court of Justice, following migration studies of finch species

Bird trapping techniques to capture wild birds include a wide range of techniques that have their origins in the hunting of birds for food
Bird trapping techniques to capture wild birds include a wide range of techniques that have their origins in the hunting of birds for food

Bird trapping in Malta could soon be outlawed by the European Court of Justice’s decision on a controversial derogation from the trapping ban.

But the ministry for the environment is still planning to commission migration studies of seven finch species, which traditionally are done prior to the opening of a new trapping season.

Indeed, it is not ruling out the re-opening of the trapping season.

The ministry said that the migration studies will correlate the data with bag data from trappers “should any live-capturing derogations be applied during the 2017 autumn season”.

Finch trapping is banned under EU law but member states can derogate from this ban upon strict criteria. An opinion to the ECJ by its Advocate General has stated that the court should now rule that Malta clearly failed to fulfil its obligations to abide with the Wild Birds Directive, when it controversially reopened the trapping season.

But the ministry refuted the suggestion that the studies, which are at tendering stage, are a prelude to a new season for trapping.

“In line with the information outlined in the tender, it shall in no way be construed or perceived as obliging the government or any other relevant authority to take any decision in connection with any derogation under the European Union Birds Directive or any other law or regulation,” a spokesperson said.

The study is for a scientific report on the migration of seven finch species as well as the Golden Plover and Song Thrush in autumn 2017.

It has been customary that such a study is commissioned in time for the derogation from the trapping ban, so that the Maltese government can justify opening the season on the back of low catches in previous outings. The data is then reported to the Commission only after the trapping season is over.

The ministry has not ruled out it will not reopen the trapping season.

The studies will survey and scientifically monitor the daily influx of seven species of finches, Golden Plover and Song Thrush; estimate the overall influx of these nine species per day and for the whole study period; and correlate migration data with bag data for the relevant species, “should any live-capturing derogations be applied during the 2017 autumn season.” 

In a comment to MaltaToday, BirdLife – which sits on the Ornis Committee that consults the government on the opening of hunting seasons – said Malta was very likely to lose the ECJ case opened by the Commission against it.

“While we would never disagree with any studies which are purposely aimed for the conservation of birds and biodiversity, we believe that Malta is very likely to lose the ECJ case on trapping for finches which will need to be observed and enforced by the government but also by the trappers,” a spokesperson said.

“Giving false hope to trappers at this stage could be detrimental for this to happen effectively. We hope to see a courageous government that does what is right and safeguards finches from being trapped in our country.”

ECJ expected to enforce ban

The core of the Advocate General’s opinon is that she has turned down all of Malta’s arguments in relation to those conditions necessary to derogate from the trapping ban, namely: ‘judicious use’; trapping as a ‘tradition’; the argument that there is ‘no other satisfactory solution’; the use of clap-nets as a medium of capture that can be derogated; and the fact that this type of nets are a method of capture that is both large-scale and non-selective.

Indeed, the Advocate General questioned the capabilities of enforcement, and expressed serious doubts as to the credibility of the methodology used by Malta.

She also expressed strong doubts that Malta can demonstrate that the populations of the seven species of finch can be maintained at a satisfactory level.

To the contrary, she stated that it may even be that there is some risk that the use of clap-nets by 4,000 licence holders over a trapping season of 73 days may, potentially, be “capable of causing the local disappearance of a species”.

BirdLife said the opinion was consistent with its position that the Birds Directive had to protect birds, not regulate hunting and trapping them, and that “Member States do not have a carte blanche to derogate”.

“This AG Opinion also shows what BirdLife Malta has repeatedly suggested, that the government was given the wrong advice by the hunting and trapping organisations. 

“The AG’s recommendations clearly go to show that political promises do not justify the adoption of a derogation. In view of this, BirdLife Malta reiterates its position taken during the latest Ornis Committee meeting that the government should not accept the recommendation by Ornis to open this year’s trapping season before a final verdict is delivered by the ECJ later on this year.”

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