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EU will hold firm over spring bird bag quotas

The European Commission does not intend to make any further concessions to the Government over bird hunting quotas in spring.

These figures are the upper limits that may not be exceeded in the future

Despite the hunting lobby’s high expectations that the new Labour Government will strike a new deal with Brussels to increase the national bag limits in spring, the Commission has already given informal but clear indications to the Maltese authorities this will not be possible.

While confirming that the new Government has not yet asked it to increase the bird limits in future spring hunting seasons, a Commission spokesman made it clear this issue is not up for discussion as the current levels are considered to be the “upper limits”.

“The Commission recalls that the maximum number of birds that may be allowed to be hunted during any particular spring hunting season according to the national legislation currently in force, represents the ‘small numbers’ required under the Birds Directive,” the spokesman said when asked whether discussions have started on the possibility of increasing national bag limits.

“These figures are the upper limits that may not be exceeded in the future if Malta intended to lawfully apply a spring hunting derogation,” the Commission’s spokesman insisted.

The Commission has always been consistent in this issue and had resisted attempts by the Government to increase the 11,000 limit currently in place.

A few years ago, following pressure by the hunting lobby, the Nationalist Administration had attempted to increase the limit to 22,000 birds over a three-week period.

However, following discussions with the Commission, the proposal was shelved.

Environment Commissioner Janez Potocnik had told the hunters’ lobby in 2011 that the European Court decision on spring hunting in Malta was clear – only a limited amount would be permitted according to strict rules.

“One cannot expect limits to be increased from year to year,” he had told hunters.

After years of accusing the previous Administration of wrongly applying a derogation to the Birds Directive, the hunters’ federation (FKNK) signed an agreement with Labour on the eve of the election promising to “correctly apply” the derogation.

The hunters had already made it clear that this implies a substantial increase in the national bag limit in spring as they argue the current levels are very low.

According to their calculations, a national limit of some 150,000 turtle doves and quails was possible.

Following the change of administration last month, the Labour Government decided to leave the status quo, citing lack of time as the main reason for not changing any of the rules.

This was met with disappointment by hunters, although they said they were prepared to give the new Government time to conduct whatever studies were necessary.

The only changes made this year were cosmetic, with the removal of a €50 fee for a special licence and allowing hunters not to wear an identification arm band.

These small alterations have already raised eyebrows in Brussels.

The Commission last week said that it had asked for clarifications as it was under the impression that the removed measures were in place as part of strict enforcement rules.

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