Times of Malta, 24 April 2010

Malta is becoming “an international and EU embarrassment” and the government and the opposition should work together to address the spring hunting issue, seven environmental organisations insist.

In a joint statement, the organisations expressed concern at the issues related to the opening of spring hunting.

The government and the opposition should work together and “stop trying to gain political mileage on hunting in Malta. This calls into question the environmental credibility of the two major parties,” they said.

The organisations – Din L-Art Ħelwa, Flimkien għal Ambjent Aħjar, Friends of the Earth Malta, the Gaia Foundation, the Malta Organic Agriculture Movement, Nature Trust and the Ramblers Association Malta – condemned the recent alleged assaults by hunters on BirdLife volunteers and stressed on the need for better enforcement.

The police Administrative Law Enforcement unit had long been understaffed and the enforcement unit within the Malta Environment and Planning Authority needed to be strengthened, they said.

“This lack of action by the national authorities is now being interpreted as lack of environmental commitment by the government,” they said.

Turning to Mepa, they said they were shocked to learn that its representatives on the Ornis committee – the government’s hunting advisory body – commended a longer spring hunting season in Malta.

Finally, the NGOs appealed to the Maltese people to show their concern on this issue.

“If Malta ends up being fined by the EU, (the money) will not be paid by hunters or politicians but by all Maltese and Gozitan citizens through their tax contribution,” the NGOs said.

Last month, Ornis recommended a hunting season between April 10 – 30 allowing for a total of about 33,000 birds to be shot.

But the government decided on a shortened season, between April 24 and 30, excluding Sunday, with a bag limit of about 7,000 birds. The season would be open to a limited 2,500 hunters.

The government explained its decision by saying that, since no agreement was reached with the European Commission on the matter, it did not want to run the risk of being dragged to court and waste tax payers’ money in hefty fines.

The disgruntled hunters have called on the government to open the season immediately to an unlimited number of hunters and with a bag limit not below 33,000 birds.

The Labour Party has been reiterating its stance in favour of the Ornis recommendations.