Update 2 | Europe ‘asking questions’ about Malta’s spring hunting season

BirdLife claims European Commission have asked government for scientific justification behind this year’s spring hunting season • CABS says EU-wide hunting ban on turtle dove will be proposed • WBRU accuses BirdLife of 'misleading the public' 

L-R: Darryl Grima, Mark Sultana, and Nick Barbara of BirdLife Malta
L-R: Darryl Grima, Mark Sultana, and Nick Barbara of BirdLife Malta

The European Commission has formally asked the Maltese government to justify why it opened a spring hunting season this year, BirdLife Malta has revealed.

“This clearly shows how dubious the sustainability of the spring hunting season is and how mistaken the government was to open the season,” Birdlife president Daryl Grima told a press conference.

He argued that the EC’s request came in light of a recent report by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature that shows that European turtle dove populations have plummeted by 80% in the past 30 years.

Malta’s spring hunting season will run until 30 April, with the government setting the total turtle dove quota at 5,000 birds. It announced this as a “conservation measure”, referring to a reduction from previous years’ quotas of 11,000 turtle doves.

However, BirdLife’s conservation officer Nick Barbara questioned the scientific rationale behind the 5,000 bird quota.

“During this week’s Ornis Committee, we asked the Wild Birds’ Regulation Unit head [Sergei Golovkin] for the scientific reasoning behind the new quota but he was unable to provide it,” he said.

BirdLife chief executive Mark Sultana said that the Ornis committee’s decision to open this year’s spring hunting season was based on political, rather than scientific, justification.

“It will be difficult for the government  to cite political arguments with the European Commission,” he said. “The EC didn’t raise questions when the season quota was set at 11,000 turtle doves, and yet is now doing so when the quota has been reduced to 5,000 birds? This is because the goalposts have changed after the IUCN’s report, and the turtle dove is now in a vulnerable state. This could also mean that Malta is breaching a ruling on the season by the European Court of Justice.”

The German eNGO Committee Against Bird Slaughter (CABS) said on Friday that fewer protected birds are now being shot at over Malta.

However, Sultana argued that few birds have flown over Malta since the season opened last week and that illegalities have only declined because hunters are scared of getting arrested.

“We fear that they will start targeting protected birds more rampantly as soon as enforcement is loosened,” he said.

He added that the law that requires seven police officers to be deployed per 1,000 hunters is not being adhered to.

“A sergeant of the Administrative Law Enforcement told the Ornis Committee that there are currently 50 officers in the field. Since there are 10,000 registered hunters in Malta, that number is still too low.”

‘EU-wide hunting ban on turtle dove to be proposed’

The Committee Against Bird Slaughter later cited sources close to the European Commission as saying that an EU-wide hunting ban on turtle dove will be proposed when the species management for the bird will be reviewed in the coming years.

“The turtle dove is a species of conservation concern with a population decline up to 80% in many European countries,” CABS said in a Facebook post. “Hunting such a vulnerable species cannot be sustainable and counters all efforts to stop the decline of this wonderful bird. We will therefore continue to propose a moratorium on hunting of turtle doves in the EU.”
CABS said that its team witnessed over 60 turtle doves across Malta between 6 and 9am this morning, most of which were gunned down.

“Despite international protests, Maltese hunters are allowed to shoot 5,000 turtle doves this spring. Because many hunters do not report their kills to the authorities, the total number of birds blasted out of the sky is probably higher.”

WBRU lashes out at BirdLife for ‘misleading the public’

The government’s Wild Birds Regulation Unit took umbrage at BirdLife’s claim that it was unable to provide scientific data to back up its decision to open the spring hunting season.

It said that it had presented to the Ornis Committee its report of the outcome of the 2015 spring hunting derogation, reports of turtle dove and quail migration studies conducted in spring and autmn in 2015, a scientific assessment of the conservation status of turtle dove and quail, and a detailed analysis of turtle dove and quail bags reported during the previous autumn season.

It published these reports, as well as minutes of Ornis meetings in which they were debated.

The WBRU said that government has reduced the length of the spring  hunting season from three to two weeks, reduced hunting hours from 2pm to noon on weekdays, reduced the national quota of turtle dove from 11,000 to 5,000 birds, shortened the length of the autumn season for turtle dove from five months to one month, and imposed a national quota of 7,000 birds in the autumn,

“However, at the last Ornis session on 20 April, BirdLife Malta asked us to ‘provide justification’ behind the measures taken,” the WBRU said. “In response, Sergei Golovkin explained that government took full note of the reported decline in the population status of turtle dove and its uplisting to ‘near threatened’. However, it also noted that the species remains a huntable species as part of the Birds Directive, and indeed is hunted extensively in nine EU member states apart from Malta.” 

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