Over 6,000 hunters to storm Maltese countryside, with 42 officers monitoring

A total of 6,148 hunters will be eligible to hunt during the spring in Malta between 10-30 April, despite an EU ban on hunting during this season

A total of 6,148 hunters will be eligible to hunt during the spring in Malta between 10-30 April, despite an EU ban on hunting during this season.

These comprise 5,113 hunters in Malta and 1,035 in Gozo, official Ornis Committee data given to BirdLife shows.

EU rules specify that seven police officers are required for every 1,000 hunters to enforce hunting rules. This means that around 42 officers will be required to supervise hunting irregularities. 

1,247 hunters of the 7,395 eligible hunters in Malta will not be able to go hunting because they are over 65 years of age. 

This means a reduction of seven in the number of police officers normally required.

BirdLife CEO Mark Sultana expressed concern on the quality of enforcement, in view of present COVID-19 concerns, with experienced officers of the Administrative Law Enforcement unit being currently engaged in enforcing the quarantine of infected individuals.

“It is not just a matter of numbers but mostly a matter of experience, of knowing the hotspots, of identifying birds, of being able to respond to reports and handling the situation.”

BirdLife is already concerned by the fact that regular annual training session for ALE officers by the Wild Birds Regulation Unit have not taken place. 

“At least these officers have experience and have been trained in the past,” Sultana said.

Even the  Police Officers Union (POU) has expressed its disapproval of the opening of the quail hunting season this year, as it fears that this will put an unnecessary burden on the police force.

  Malta Gozo Total
Registered hunters 6,195 1,200 7,395
Over-65 1,082 165 1,247
Total left 5,113 1,035 6,148

The union, which forms part of the General Workers’ Union (GWU), explained that some members of the Police Force are currently tasked with inspections and the enforcement of the preventive measures put into place because of COVID-19.

One solution currently being considered to relieve pressure on the police force is to deploy the army. But this solution leaves Sultana perplexed as supervising hunting requires training. 

Moreover the army should be on stand-by to be ready for emergencies as happened on Sunday when it was called to supervise the quarantine of 1,000 residents in the Hal Far open centre.

“What will happen if we open the season and a national health emergency requiring the intervention of the army happens on the second day?”

Normally enforcement during the year is done by 25 ALE officers, assisted by police recruited from district officers. In Gozo, the responsibility falls exclusively on local policeman following a decision that had been taken by former Gozo minister Giovanna Debono, and subsequently confirmed by different administrations. 

The problem in Gozo is compounded by Maltese hunters who own farmsteads in Gozo, who migrate there during the season. 

It is unclear whether these hunters will be allowed to do so in view of restrictions on travel between the two islands. 

BirdLife is still committed to supervise the hunting season by having groups of less than three people supervising hunting hotspots. 

But the organisation fears a logistical nightmare and widespread illegalities amidst a breakdown in enforcement, as the country struggles with unpredictable COVID-19 emergencies.