Only 10% of hunters report kills as catch figures plummet

Hunters’ declared autumn catches plummet by around 100,000 birds, raising fears of under-reporting

Tim Diacono
14 February 2017, 7:15am
The WBRU has insisted the hunting figures are accurate, but BirdLife has warned it is evidence of under-reporting
The WBRU has insisted the hunting figures are accurate, but BirdLife has warned it is evidence of under-reporting
Fears that hunters are under-reporting their kills have been reignited, with new figures showing that only 10% of them even reported shooting a bird in the first two and a half months of the last autumn hunting season.

While 1,000 hunters reported catching 12,600 birds amongst themselves between the start of the season (1st October) and 15 December, the remaining 9,600 did not report a single catch. The season closed on 31 January. 

Other statistics – revealed during the last meeting of the Ornis Committee, the government’s advisory body on hunting – are more indicative yet. Hunters declared shooting 121,265 birds in the 2014 hunting season, 82,327 in 2015, and only 12,876 in the most recent season, as of 15 December. Most evidently, declared catches of song thrush dropped from 61,176 in 2014 to 36,866 in 2015, to 8,693 in 2016. Catches of common starling plummeted from 32,521 in 2014 to 24,576 in 2015 to 2,132 in 2016. 

The declared catches of quail – which the government will provide as evidence to the European Commission to justify opening a spring hunting season for the bird – also plummeted sharply, from 2,326 in 2014 and 2,158 in 2015 to 246 in 2016. 

Sergei Golovkin, head of the Wild Bird Regulation Unit (WBRU), insisted that the hunters’ figures were accurate and argued that the low percentage of hunters who declared a kill boiled down to a lack of interest, poor bird migration, and adverse weather conditions. 

“It cannot be assumed that all licensed people actually took part in the hunting season,” he said during the last Ornis meeting in December. “Moreover, those who did practise hunting had done so with a varied intensity. Some hunters may have gone out only once or twice and did not bag anything.”

He blamed the lower turtle dove catch on poor migration and the fact that the hunting season for them was shortened to the month of September last year. As for quail, he argued that the bird’s presence in Malta last season tended to coincide with bad weather, hindering hunters from catching them. 

Golovkin also claimed that the 2016 figures for song thrush and starlings are accurate and that hunters had actually over-reported catches in previous years. He pinned this ‘phenomenon’ on the new digital live reporting system that was introduced last season, to replace the Carnet de Chasse booklet that hunters used to fill in manually and submit to the WBRU at the end of the season. 

“The new system has a greater sense of immediacy, as opposed to the system where hunters routinely filled in the Carnet de Chasse booklets at the end of the season ‘from memory’, possibly resulting in exaggerated reports. 

However, BirdLife Malta is insisting that the statistics add weight to its long-standing claim that many hunters simply do not report their kills, as they are legally obliged to do. 

“Migration fluctuations are normal, but the fact that hunters’ declared catches for all birds have plummeted across the board indicates that there is something wrong,” BirdLife conservation manager Nicholas Barbara told MaltaToday. “The new digital reporting system is quite complicated and should have been introduced gradually, as it is clear that it isn’t providing accurate results. Sometimes I wonder whether the WBRU’s role is actually to regulate the hunting season or to find sorry excuses to justify under-reporting.”