An anthropologist who specialises in hunting and conservation has described the government’s decision to open the trapping season in spite of EU Commission proceedings against trapping in Malta as a “short-lived distraction” and a “lazy, cynical and frankly ludicrous route”.
The anthropologist, Mark Anthony Falzon, who was also the chairman of the Ornis Committee, the government body set up to take decisions related to hunting and trapping, said the decision will, at best, buy trappers a couple more years before Malta’s breach of the EU’s Birds Directive results in an inevitable closure of the season.
“The government could have chosen to explore the reasonable options, within a transparent and honest exchange with the Commission, trappers, conservationists and the public,” Falzon said.
“Instead, it chose a lazy, cynical and frankly ludicrous route. This may well be government’s gift to trappers, but it’s a gift that will absolutely not keep on giving,” he added, referring to how the government had repealed legislation which allows the deviation from the EU’s Birds Directive on 13 October only to open the season anyway on 19 October.
The legislation which was repealed was essentially being used to circumvent a 2018 ruling by the European Court of Justice which declared that trapping should not be allowed under the Birds Directive. Since then, the government has opened the trapping season every year under the guise of a ‘research’ derogation in which trappers are supposed to catch and release any trapped birds while noting down information about them and reporting any catch made.
The EU Commission was weeks away from taking legal action against Malta for its subversion of the European Court of Justice judgement, with hopeful environmental NGOs believing that the Ornis Committee’s delay in reopening this year’s season meant it might mean the government called it off for good.
According to news reports, representatives of the EU Commission and ENGOs alike were instead stunned by the government’s U-turn. One report describes the decision as a pre-electoral ploy in which Gozo Minister Clint Camilleri, who also oversees hunting legislation, essentially took a unilateral decision to reopen the season after the Ornis committee washed its hands of the decision it was supposed to take and passed on the responsibility to the minister.
“Trappers are probably happy to be in the field again, but they’re being short-sighted. It’s simply a matter of time – one or two years, at the most – until it all comes crashing down because of the infringement proceedings. You can fool some birds into settling under a net, but you cannot fool the combined forces of science, conservation and politics into believing that this is anything but a short-lived distraction,” Falzon told The Shift.
When asked whether he believes any trappers are carrying out any form of credible research under the derogation, Falzon described it as a “travesty”.
“Scientific research requires research hypotheses, research design based on clear sampling techniques, standardised measurement protocols, professional research ethics, and so on,” he said, adding that only through “rigorous training” can such data be gathered and analysed reliably.
“This derogation, then, is to scientific research what my singing in the shower is to the Metropolitan Opera. It relies on a catch-and-release procedure which is both implicitly opposed to what trapping is traditionally about (catch-and-keep) and next to impossible to effectively police,” he added.
While Falzon believes that it would not be impossible to find “sound, if arguable, reasons why some kind of finch trapping could in principle be allowed”, the anthropologist cast “serious doubts” on derogation’s “mechanisms and parameters” and the impossibility of enforcing them.
Three weeks ago, Falzon commented to The Shift about the government’s decision to ban hunting at Qawra Point following the shooting of four protected flamingos in the area, pointing out that the decision had been taken for the sake of exploiting public outrage for good PR rather than any actual enforcement against abusive practices.
By and large, the government’s ability or willingness to rein in rampant abuse within the hunting and trapping communities is perceived as non-existent. On 25 September, BirdLife Malta and the Committee Against Birds’ Slaughter (CABS) reported yet another ‘massacre’ of a year, with at least 21 protected birds being gunned down and recovered.
During the peak of such reports towards the last week of September, Minister Camilleri was busy wining and dining with the hunters’ federation (FKNK) in a luxury restaurant in Budapest where the federation was attending a general assembly organised by its European counterparts.