Bird trapping in Malta could be soon outlawed again after devastating EU court opinion

EU Court’s Advocate General’s opinion is step towards the end of finch trapping because laws “do not respect Malta’s obilgations under EU law”

The European Union’s court of justice is on the cusp of delivering a fatal blow to bird trapping in Malta.

An opinion delivered Wednesday morning in Luxembourg by Eleanor Sharpston, Advocate General at the European Court of Justice (ECJ), stated that the Court should rule that by opening a trapping season for finches, the Maltese government had clearly failed to fulfil its obligations to abide with the Wild Birds Directive.

Finch trapping is illegal under EU law, and only allowable under strict conditions. Malta re-opened its closed trapping season after Labour was elected to power, but the European Commission took the government to court in October 2015.

Sharpston stated that she is “entirely convinced that the present arrangements do not respect Malta’s obligations under EU law”.

“The recommendations by Advocate General Sharpston, now to be considered by the Court of Justice of the European Union which will deliver its final verdict later on this year, could spell another step towards the end of finch trapping in Malta,” BirdLife Malta said in a statement.

“In all sections of the document, the Advocate General states that Malta’s finch trapping regulations were in breach of the Wild Birds Directive.

“Whilst this document is presently being analysed, BirdLife Malta cannot but notice that the ECJ Advocate General has mentioned various facts that solidify the argument that it was a mistake to reopen finch trapping seasons since 2014. This, after finch trapping was phased out in 2009 as per Malta’s Accession Treaty to the EU,” BLM said.

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 these type of nets are a method of capture that is both large-scale and non-selective.

The Advocate General also 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.”