Song bird trappers in Malta face off with EU

The EU Court of Justice found that Malta has violated an EU directive on the protection of wild birds. The directive allows member states to trap song birds under strictly supervised conditions, affecting only small numbers of birds. 

Daiva Repeckaite
Daiva Repeckaite NewsMavens, Malta
Song bird trappers in Malta face off with EU - NewsMavens
Finch, PixaBay

Why this story matters:

The issue is highly political, as trappers want to continue their ways (using traditional, non-selective trapping nets) and are a significant political lobby.

The news made it to the Guardian, which stated that  most captured birds did not live long, and those that survived were sold as pets.

Last year the journalist and environmentalist Chris Packham was acquitted after being sued for assaulting illegal bird trappers and trespassing. He and his crew filmed a site for illegally trapping birds on the island of Gozo before the owners of the land told them to leave and a stand-off followed. Packham claims that the police, whom he called to report the offense, also acted aggressively. The trapper was not charged, but the journalist was. The Federation of Hunters, Trappers and Conservationists (FKNK) accused Packham of “neo-colonialist behavior” while traveling through Malta as a "tourist".

The court ruling may contribute to the emerging narrative that the EU is imposing excessive rules on Malta.

This includes scrutinizing the golden visa scheme, challenging the tax haven policy, and insisting on environment protection at the expense of traditional hobbies. The ruling may also impact the illegal trade of finches, particularly between Italy and Malta. And this is what the general public thinks.

Details from the story:

  • The European Court of Justice published its judgement on June 21 regarding the derogation Malta adopted against the EU ban on bird trapping as it was obliged to phase-out trapping for seven species by 2009. Malta had initially banned trapping when the directive was transposed, but in 2014 and 2015 the government opted for a derogation. It authorized capture of seven species of finches by traditional nets as a hobby.
  • The hunting lobby, FKNK -- the largest NGO in Malta -- maintains that trapping is allowed in Austria in the name of preserving a tradition.
  • There are around 10,000 hunters in Malta, around 4,000 registered licence holders and over 6,400 registered trapping stations -- together with their families, trappers form a substantial voting power. The court found that less than a quarter have been subjected to individual checks. It is estimated that since the derogation, 110,000 finches have been caught. According to BirdLife Malta, an environmental NGO, the limit of 10 birds per trapper per season was never sufficiently monitored.
  • Prime Minister Joseph Muscat stood by the trapping community.
  • The former leader of the opposition Nationalist Party, Simon Busuttil, was scolded by the current leader Adrian Delia for derogating from the party's position by suggesting that the court decision was fair. “It is useless blaming trappers…this is a case against Malta and we should be discussing ways in which trapping can continue in a sustainable manner and within the parameters of the law,” Delia said. 
  • Birdlife Malta CEO Mark Sultana said the ruling was a “victory for the entire natural environment”.
  • The ruling may impact the illegal trade of finches, particularly between Italy and Malta. In May, Italian police and Europol arrested nine men and shut down an organized group with a network of illegal buyers and sellers of protected birds, mostly songbirds, in Malta and northern Italy.
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