Changes to Malta trapping season risks referral to EU court – BirdLife

This year’s changes to trapping season based on trappers’ demands, not facts, says BirdLife Malta

Golden Plover. Photo: Denis Cachia
Golden Plover. Photo: Denis Cachia

The government has introduced changes to a derogation from the EU’s ban on trapping that are a result of “non-factual concerns voiced by trappers”, Birdlife Malta has said.

The government opened the trapping season for Golden Plover and Song Thrush last Sunday.

Main changes include an extension of ten days to the trapping season, particularly targeting Golden Plover, and a decrease in mesh size of nets used for Song Thrush.

Yet trapping for both these species is still under infringement proceedings initiated by the European Commission in 2011.

The changes were initially presented at Ornis Committee meetings after it resulted that the Commission had voiced a number of concerns with Maltese authorities over the manner the derogation was implemented in 2018.

Fieldwork carried out by Birdlife in 2018 and presented to the EC has shown that 82.8% of surveyed trapping sites in 2018 were illegally targeting finches or other species not permitted by the derogation. 57.5% of surveyed trapping sites found to be active were also operating illegally in areas unauthorised by the Wild Birds Regulation Unit (WBRU). The WBRU intended to introduced reduction in the maximum area for a trapping site targeting Song Thrush, and a reduction by 41 days dedicated to trapping Song Thrush. However, in subsequent meetings WBRU withdrew such proposals – “a clear indication that discussions behind closed doors between the Government and the trapping lobby had taken place, with the Government giving in to the lobby’s pressure,” Birdlife claimed.

“Proposals forwarded and voted upon by Ornis Committee represented what the trapping lobby had insisted upon, and was not based on any conservation or scientific facts,” Birdlife said.

Overall the season has not seen any kind of reduction in trapping effort, but increased. Where previous trapping seasons were limited to the periods October to December, this year’s amendment to law has allowed the trapping season to be extended to the 10 January. No particular studies indicating why such an extension was needed were presented to Ornis Committee, which outvoted BirdLife Malta in recommending the go-ahead to such a new measure.

The other major change has included a reduction in mesh size from 45mm x 45mm of the nets used in the 2018 season, to a 35mm x 35mm mesh that is being permitted to be used for Song Thrush. The change was enacted as a result of ‘complaints’ to WBRU, with Federation for Hunting & Conservation (FKNK) and hunting experts at Ornis Committee claiming that nets were resulting in more than 50% of ensnared thrushes escaping.

“No scientific evidence was ever made public or submitted to the Ornis Committee documenting the missed catches by trappers,” Birdlife said.

“Ironically data collected by WBRU for the trapping season of 2018, showed 2018 as being the season with the most trapped Song Thrush recorded in recent years. Such data, apart from the fact that it is grossly under-represented, discredits claims that nets with a 45mm x 45mm mesh size were unsuitable last year,” conservation manager Nicholas Barbara said.

“With a trapping season in 2018 already having resulted in a good percentage of trapping sites operating illegally, the changes introduced this year – namely an extension to the days trappers are allowed to operate, and to make matters worse with the possibility of using nets with a finer mesh – will only add to an overall increased catch effort on Song Thrush, Golden Plover as well as allowing a greater possibility for trappers to illegally net finches, especially the larger species such as Hawfinch.”

Barbara said that instead of ensuring stricter control, the measures enacted this year are only targeted to allow more trapping. “Various issues remain unaddressed including the indiscriminate use of bird callers, and the insufficient coverage by police on Gozo and Malta to execute spot checks. A recommendation for the setting up of a Wildlife Crime Unit filed with the Hon. Clint Camilleri remains unacted upon.”

BirdLife said Malta’s trapping derogation remains unsustainable and called on the Maltese Government to not risk Malta being taken back to the European Court of Justice (ECJ) just to appease a lobby which insists in opening trapping seasons irrespective of repercussions.

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