Sunday

16th Jun 2019

Bird killing to continue after Malta rejects hunt ban

  • Valetta: The quail remains under threat when Malta's spring hunt begins this week (Photo: Ronny Siegel)

Malta’s controversial spring hunt of thousands of migrating birds from Africa to Europe will remain after a referendum aimed at banning the annual hunt was defeated.

The Mediterranean Island’s 340,000 votes decided by a narrow margin of 2,200 votes - 50.4 percent to 49.6 percent margin - to retain the practice which bitterly divides its people and has drawn criticism from the European Commission and a number of EU countries.

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  • Hunters which breach these limits face a €5,000 fine (Photo: EUobserver)

The referendum was held in response to a voters' petition for a ban on the two-week hunting of birds between 14 April to 30 April.

Malta was given a derogation from EU rules on birds to allow a limited form of its spring hunting season to continue.

However, after being taken to court by the European Commission for breaching its directive on Wild Birds, the European Court of Justice ruled that spring hunting could only be permitted under certain strict conditions which did not endanger bird species.

But the issue has remained a controversial one for the island, where the hunting lobby remains a powerful force in both the governing Labour and opposition Nationalist parties. Labour prime minister Joseph Muscat and Nationalist leader Simon Busuttil both back the hunters.

Muscat said that the referendum marked the “last chance” for hunters, who “have to understand that the story has changed for them, totally”.

“Practically half the people do not want spring hunting to continue,” he said, adding that hunters “have to understand that they must respect the law in the spring hunting season that will open on Tuesday.”

The spring hunt limits the number of birds that can be killed to 11,000 turtle doves and 5,000 quail, while hunters are allowed to kill no more than two birds a day, and are limited to four birds each throughout the whole season. Hunters who breach these limits face a €5,000 fine.

In a press conference following the vote on Sunday (12 April), the leaders of the ‘Yes’ campaign warned hunters “to show that you are not the people the ‘No’ camp tried to depict you as”.

“Have fun hunting but remember that the first mistake and the first illegality will have to be carried by all,” Joe Perici Calascione, who leads the hunters’ association, told supporters.

For their part, BirdLife Malta, which had led calls for a ban, described the vote as “a missed opportunity to end the killing of birds in spring.”

Axel Hirschfeld, a spokesman for the Campaign Against Bird Slaughter, told Maltese media that conservationists would be in Malta from 17 April to 3 May with 24 international volunteers to monitor the spring hunting season with video cameras, spotting scopes and night vision equipment.

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