Points system loosens screws on law-breaking hunters

Hunters spared increased fines on second offences, will not be taken to court on third offence unless they amass 12 penalty points

The Ornis Committee has scaled back an increase in fines for hunters using illegal electronic bird-callers, in favour of a penalty-point system before poachers are referred to a court of law.

The fines and penalty points will replace the automatic court referral for hunters and trappers who breach limits on the use of live decoys, do not comply with minimum cage dimensions, use electronic lures, or fail to report trapped birds that are ringed or not released back into the wild.

Originally, it was planned to increase fines from €250 to €495 for the use of birdcallers, but under a new draft legal notice, these will remain the same.The same fines will also apply for a second offence instead of being increased. But hunters and trappers who breach the rules will also be penalised, ranging from two to four points for individual offences.

They will eventually only be referred to court if they amass 12 penalty points, and these will even be reset to zero after two years from the date of the last offence.

The law currently refers a third offence to the court, but hunters lobby FKNK claimed with the Ornis committee that a penalty point system served as a better deterrent against illegalities by repeat offenders.

BirdLife insisted that a penalty point system could not work without a final deterrent such as the suspension of the hunting licence, as in the case for drivers who lose their licence after amassing a number of penalty points.

BirdLife said such a revised penalty system was against the spirit of a clampdown against the illegal use of bird-callers, with Malta now facing infringement procedures from the European Commission over its derogation from the ban on spring hunting and trapping.

Malta was expected to increase its fines for illegal trapping in the face of the EC’s infringement procedures, as a sign of the government’s action against law-breakers.

But the FKNK told the Ornis Committee in a meeting on the draft legal notice that the penalty point system “had to be viewed from a practical and political of view”.

FKNK representative Joe Perici Calascione told the committee that the lobby had seen a backlash from its members and even politicians. “A decision has to be taken to see a balance while maintaining the ultimate objective of clamping down on bird-callers.”

In a vote on the draft legal notice, BirdLife abstained, while the FKNK, the Environment and Resources Authority, the two government representatives and the chairman of the committee, voted in favour.

Yesterday the Maltese government closed the autumn season for the hunting for turtle dove (gamiema), after reporting that the bag limit of 500 had been reached.

The decision comes exactly a month since the European Commission instructed member states to reduce hunting bag limit on turtle dove by 50% during the autumn, after deeming that the species needed more protection.

The turtle dove is hunted in Malta also during the spring under a contentious derogation from the EU ban on hunting in spring.

The Maltese government is now obliged to implement either a full hunting ban on the turtle dove, or a mandatory 50% reduction of the hunting quotas during autumn.

The EC had long been discussing the fate of the turte dove populations with BirdLife International and the European federation of hunters FACE. Larger countries such as France, Spain and Portugal are looking at banning turtle-dove hunting all year round.

BirdLife Malta CEO Mark Sultana had said the European Commission’s allowance for Malta for just 500 turtle-doves to be hunted during September, meant that the chances of a spring hunting season for turtle-doves “is definitely out of the question.”

Sultana said that knowing that there is no respect for hunting laws in Malta, this limited bag limit would not actually stop hunters from killing more than the quota. “This puts more pressure on the Maltese Government to strengthen its enforcement efforts, and BirdLife Malta will remain committed to doing its share in monitoring what is happening in our countryside, support the enforcement efforts and report back both locally and at EU level on whatever we witness,” Sultana said.

“It is disappointing that the Maltese government continued to ignore scientific data.”