That last chance

During the ECJ hearings spring hunting was stopped. There were no cries of “collective punishment”; no talk on “possible legal measures” to restore the missed if (gunfire-) silent springs; no doubt that the “owner” of the derogation was the government.

The rumpus created by the premature closure of the spring hunting season merits a little reflection.

Malta was in trouble in 2008 when it was hauled up in front of the European Court of Justice (ECJ) for its operation of a derogation on spring hunting (DSH). Our faults were described as ‘not enough bird protection’, no quotas and no real enforcement. Fines were imposed (ever paid?) but the ability to apply for a DSH was not, could not be removed by the ECJ.

During the ECJ hearings spring hunting was stopped. There were no cries of “collective punishment”; no talk on “possible legal measures” to restore the missed if (gunfire-) silent springs; no doubt that the “owner” of the derogation was the government.

For spring 2015 the terms were: April, 19 “days”, quotas for quail and turtledove, SMS/Carnet de Chasse bag notifications, proper enforcement. After a number (10-12, apart from the 65 quail ‘callers’) of confirmed illegalities PM Muscat closed the season with three days remaining. 

There was a veritable eruption of “popular” feeling. The hunters’ federation FKNK went overboard with loud lamentations of “collective punishment” (there was no support from hunters’ organisation KSU on that).

The FKNK said they were looking into possible “legal” remedies for re-opening the season or at least barring future attempts at premature closure; a meeting with PM Muscat was demanded. The other side said just the opposite, with loud cries of “we told you so” and (faint) praise for the PM for keeping his word on that “last chance”.

On a more sober legal level, Magistrate Franco Depasquale accepted that the FKNK could appear as parte civile in the trial of Kirsten Mifsud, indicted for shooting a bird of a protected species.

The government is responsible for each particular DSH, with its elements of timing, duration, quotas and species, catch reporting and enforcement. For instance, if the quotas are reached in the first 10 days of a 20-day season, the government is bound to close the season (the FKNK thought so too, hence its warning to hunters to go easy on reporting in the first days of a season).

Will those hunters who only caught one bird, or those, say, who had taken leave from work for only the last 10 days of the season, then cry “foul” or claim to have been collectively punished for the “greed” of their fellow hunters? In this particular case the government decided that the promised enforcement was not working to its satisfaction. The PM was perfectly in order in closing the season, whatever Macchiavellian policies (various commentators) and “dangers to democracy” (FKNK) are said to lie behind the action. 

The court case featuring the colourful il-Benghazi concerned an act which is a criminal offence, in or out of the hunting season: to wit the shooting of a bird of a protected species. That fact has two clear implications: the first is that the FKNK bleat of “collective punishment” is mere paranoia and its quest to locate “legal remedies” for blocking early closure decisions a forlorn one.

More serious though is the fact that Magistrate Depasquale ruled that the FKNK could appear as parte civile on the ground that FKNK members (Kirsten Mifsud, though hunting with a veritable pack of FKNK members appeared not to be one himself) had suffered as a result of Mifsud’s actions.

But Mifsud was on trial for shooting a protected bird not for “causing” the closure. The PM could just as well have thrown in the other illegalities on the “closure” scales – in fact the FKNK implied quite clearly that he had done so; but it had not asked to be considered as parte civile in the other cases which certainly cast a bad light on law-abiding hunters.

Of course the PM does carry some responsibility for this confusion, mainly through his famous “offer” of that “last chance” to hunters. What he should have said after the referendum result was that hunters were giving him his last chance of making a credible case for a DSH, particularly as the central prop for the DSH – the poor autumn migration of quail and turtledove based only on hunters’ bag figures – has been severely shaken by the 2014 spring and autumn migration (not bag) figures produced by a government-contracted eco-firm. And that apart from the clear indications that bag figures are heavily manipulated by hunters.

The 2014 results, which PM Muscat is familiar with, can only have been reinforced by the spring 2015 migration which was by first accounts a very poor one, at least while it lasted. Let’s hope that the FKNK will not attribute this to “undemocratic” pressure on the avian population by SHout campaigners.

Some blamed climate change. Were that to be so, it would suggest that PS Roderick Galdes – in the ministry looking after climate change – failed to foresee this. Or else some survivor from the Galdes gulag of confiscated Italian green finches or escapee from the autumn 2014 trapping jamboree (you know the one with the Ornis 26850 finch quota) may have warned the spring trekkers to avoid this place. Well you can’t win them all. 

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