Finch trapping in Gozo and Malta is a “catch and trade business” – BLM

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Finch trapping in Gozo and Malta is a "catch and trade business" - BLMBirdLife Malta, in a statement today has argued that “this year’s unsupervised finch trapping season is a catch and trade business.”

The NGO is asking for results on “enforcement of the trapping season to be presented at the next Ornis meeting.”

BLM said that evidence it has collected indicates that “enforcement has been slow and at times absent in the last trapping season.”

This it said, is “giving trappers a field day over the last two and a half months with police inefficiency and their lack of response being the order of the day.”

The NGO stated that enforcement in Gozo is down to the District Police, who it said, “on multiple occasions during the past season, have failed to prosecute on evidence presented by BirdLife Malta.”

On the island of Gozo, BirdLife Malta said that “the situation with enforcement is no different. Reports filed with police over nets left unattended within the Xlendi Natura 2000 site, remained unanswered even though BirdLife Malta demanded the attention of police to nets that were causing the entanglement of other wildlife.”

“This was known to happen after the discovery of a trapped protected species, a Meadow Pipit, in another unattended net within the Ta’ Cenc Natura 2000 site,” stated the NGO.Finch trapping in Gozo and Malta is a "catch and trade business" - BLMBetween October and December 2017, the Maltese Government opened two trapping seasons for seven species of finches as well as for Golden Plover and Song Thrush.

With circa 4,000 trappers licensed for the season and 8,000 trapping sites authorised by the Wild Birds Regulation Unit (WBRU), enforcement of the season has relied upon the Administrative Law Enforcement (ALE) Unit in Malta, said BirdLife.

BirdLife argued that investigations were made on several Sunday mornings last November at the Floriana markets, which it said, “revealed at least five vendors were illegally selling wild finches (not possessing closed rings) from their stalls.”

BLM added that, “these markets are just metres away from the ALE headquarters. All vendors – a proportion of which hail from Gozo pet shops who have previously faced prosecutions on the illegal trade of finches – were reported to the police.”

However, BirdLife said that, “searches held ten days after resulted in just two birds being seized for further inspection by the WBRU. Requests filed with WBRU over the nature of their investigations remain unanswered, while police sources have admitted to not having the capabilities of distinguishing wild birds from captive ones.”

“The situation at the markets this year has been such a free for all that we have witnessed not just the usual vendors we report year after year, but even trappers, who have had a good catch of finches during the past season, selling their catch directly at the market,” commented Nicholas Barbara, Conservation Manager at BirdLife Malta.

A quota of 10 wild finches were allowed per trapper, with a possibility to use a further 21 caged birds to lure wild ones to trapping sites.

Selling wild finches is illegal, said BirdLife Malta, ” yet each trapping season creates such a huge demand for live decoy birds, that this results in local trade and smuggling of finches from nearby Italy.”

Reports filed to the authorities over the last season also “included finch trapping sites located within protected areas,” remarked the NGO.

In December, BirdLife Malta said that it was alerted by members of the public in disbelief at the fact that a trapping site was operating next to the main canopy at Buskett bird sanctuary. Photographic evidence of the site was passed on to ALE officers.

It added that, “this trapper in question was acting with such impunity that decoy birds used to lure wild finches to his trapping sites could actually be seen from the popularly frequented Buskett `tinda.’

Nicholas Barbara asked, “with all the numerous inspections on trapping sites the Wild Birds Regulation Unit reports to the European Commission every year, how could a trapper operate in a protected area under the authorities’ noses?” To date, no response has been received by the police over this case, he said.

The NGO said that, “enforcement authorities have this year more than ever showed a reluctance in prosecuting even when presented with hard evidence.”

“This has been tantamount to a situation where trappers have been allowed to operate for the last season under no supervision,” remarked Mark Sultana, BirdLife Malta’s CEO. He added that irrespective of any statistics which will eventually be issued by WBRU, it is the results that matter.

With the verdict of the case initiated by the European Commission against Malta now imminent. BirdLife Malta said that it has requested the ALE and WBRU to present their results on “enforcement’ of the trapping season at the next Ornis Committee meeting scheduled for the 24th of January.”

BirdLife Malta has also just launched #STOPTRAPPINGNOW, a public campaign aimed at raising more awareness about the negative impacts of trapping on birds and other wildlife, their habitats and the Maltese environment in general.

Photos: Finch trapping site with unattended nets was located in Xlendi (part of a Natura 2000 site): Photo by BirdLife Malta; and a protected Meadow Pipit trapped in an unattended clap net at Ta’ Cenc: Photo by Nadja Tschovikov

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