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The hunters of Gozo

George Palmer’s letter The Hunters Of Gozo (April 16) calls for comment.

The writer attacks the reporting system of the hunting derogation without showing why he thinks it is “farcical”. He also fails to propose a better system.

Mr Palmer wishes to be informed “of any special dispensation given to Gozitan hunters”. To our knowledge, there are no hunters having any such dispensation. However, to make absolutely certain, Mr Palmer might wish to address his query to the Commissioner of Police.

The 11 gunshots he heard on the morning of Good Friday “in the valley between Nadur and Qala” must have been the work of one person. Mr Palmer’s is not the first complaint regarding shooting illegalities in that particular spot. It probably concerns a poacher who evidently appears “untouchable” since he regularly breaks the law by discharging five shots at one go, shooting in the closed season and shooting at protected birds. In Gozo, everybody knows what goes on and who does what, but nobody knows anything when push comes to shove.

However, it is unethical on the part of the correspondent to blame all the Gozitan hunters because of one or two miscreants. Last year in Gozo our members witnessed the passage of hundreds of migrating bee-eaters, marsh-harriers and honey buzzards on a few days in April. All those protected birds continued on their way unmolested. Therefore, it is absolutely not true to say that “there is no protection for these birds”.

Mr Palmer’s perception of punishment is also outdated. Poachers found guilty of serious crimes against wildlife can no longer “just look forward to a suspended sentence”. The sentences being given by the Maltese courts for hunting illegalities are now among the toughest in the European Union. A look at the latest judgments should be enough to convince anyone.

Mr Palmer’s statement that “our politicians defy the EU” is completely off track. On the contrary, the Maltese environment minister responsible for hunting affairs has gone out of his way to kowtow to the EU on Maltese spring hunting. The maximum daily bag of only two birds and the daily seasonal bag of four birds per hunter, as well as limiting hunting up to 3 p.m., and banning hunting on Sundays and public holidays are definitely not EU requirements. Far from defying the EU, Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi is on record as negotiating with the EU commission to reach a consensus on the spring hunting derogation. Again, this was not required of him.

Finally, Mr Palmer should note that hunting has been practised in Gozo long before he was born. The Qala-Nadur-Xagħra area has long been famous for its hunting, and long may it remain so. He needs to acknowledge that fact, and harmonise his actions accordingly.

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