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Maltese hunters claim psychological torture

Hunters and trappers in Malta claim they are experiencing psychological torture while awaiting the government's decision on the opening of the spring hunting season. Government sources say a date has not yet been set to announce the decision but insist that it will be communicated in the days ahead.

Thousands of hunters and trappers and their families are suffering psychological torture as they tensely await the decision, the hunters' federation FKNK said yesterday.

The group said the hunters, trappers and their families were expecting Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi to apply a spring hunting derogation in terms of the EU Directive and within the parameters of the verdict of the European Court of Justice.

It added that, despite promises by the government that hunting would continue after EU membership, spring hunting was banned in 2008 and 2009 because of the case against Malta before the European Court of Justice. Since then, hunters and trappers had suffered in silence, with tragic consequences in some cases. It was reported recently on television that four suicides took place during 2008 because the hunters had been stopped from hunting.

The federation of hunters claims that the ECJ's final verdict of 10 September 2009 vindicated the hunters' arguments. Malta was free to use a spring hunting derogation as other member states did.

Following the court decision the Malta Government decided to take the case once more to the EU Commission to ensure that no fines would be imposed for breach of decision. The hunters are insisting that the Malta Government must stop hesitating and announce the opening and closing dates of a limited hunting period so that it will stop creating unnecessary tension.

A hunting federation statement said that "Dr Gonzi is in duty bound to satisfy, without further delay, the legitimate expectations of Malta's hunters and trappers, which now carry the stamp of the EU's highest legal body."

However environmentalists are insisting that before any spring hunting decision is announced the government must publish the number of birds shot and trapped in 2008. The carnet de chasse report for 2008 was due for publication last year but repeated requests for it from local environmental groups were ignored. The last of these requests was made by Birdlife Malta only a few days ago but no answer has yet been received.

International Animal Rescue in Malta requested the information from the European Commission but was informed that even the EU has not yet received it. Max Farrugia believes that one of the reasons why the carnet de chasse has not yet been made public is because the figures don't convey the true scale of hunting on the island. Since the Malta government based its defence before the ECJ on figures produced by the hunters and, based on these assumptions there is a possibility that the government will open a short hunting season, it is very important that the figures used are made public. Ornithological sightings by both local and foreign bird watchers show that the autumn migration of quails was higher than in spring following the hunting ban which took place during 2008.

Whilst environmental groups are insisting that the government should not open the hunting season, the hunters' federation insisted today that the hunting season should be opened in good time. The federation is insisting that the recommendations made by Malta Ornis Committee for a limited season under derogation for turtle dove and quail should be open from 10 April.

As in previous years the Committee Against Bird Slaughter (CABS) will be sending a group of Bird Guards to Malta this spring. They will again be working with International Animal Rescue. There will be four groups out in the countryside, together with a small number of volunteers who will run the group's control room. The groups will be in the field from 16 April to 25 April. The main task of the volunteers is to document illegal hunting and report all cases to the Malta police. As soon as the team goes into the field they will have an active mobile phone number so that any illegality can be reported to headquarters. The operation details will be made known to the Administrative Law Enforcement Section of the Malta police on their arrival and, as in the past, the bird protection teams will work to support and cooperate with the police throughout the camp.