Conservationists made a last-ditch appeal to MPs in Thursday to reject a bill that introduces relaxations and loopholes to the hunting law, making it harder to tackle poaching.
The government bill looks set to be approved by parliament on Friday, despite opposition, including from restaurateurs and game wardens who will be tasked with its enforcement.
“BirdLife Cyprus, the Cyprus Conservation Foundation Terra Cypria, Friends of the Earth Cyprus, the Committee Against Bird Slaughter (CABS) and the Foundation Pro Biodiversity (SPA) are calling again on the Members of Parliament to vote against this amendment, prepared by the Game & Fauna Service and modified by MPs,” a written statement said.
The amendment introduces a series of relaxations and loopholes in the existing legislative framework, by introducing on-the-spot fines for offenses, indirectly decriminalizing limesticks – used to hunt songbirds — and allowing the consumption of wild birds in restaurants.
“These relaxations are expected to create serious problems for the conservation of wild birds, for the tackling illegal bird trapping and illegal hunting and in the sustainable management of game,” BirdLife Cyprus said.
One of the alarming amendments is the introduction of on-the-spot fines for all offenses, a clear relaxation compared to the existing legal framework, which calls for offenders to be taken to court.
If on-the-spot fines are voted in, there is the serious safety issue for game wardens, BirdLife said.
Based on the current legal framework, offenders are taken to court where sentences could be a fine of up to €17,000 and/or up to three years imprisonment.
In practice, the sentences currently imposed are not a deterrent and the situation is expected to worsen if the amendment is approved.
Two unions representing game wardens have sent a joint letter stating that “the amendment will negatively impact the work being carried out by game wardens and, above all, their safety”.
Regarding the relaxation of the fines, there has also been a proposal for separate regulation of limestick use. The proposed fine is only €200 for possession and use of up to 72 limesticks, something that translates as an indirect decriminalisation of limesticks.
The amendment also proposes the legalisation of consumption of game by hunters in restaurants, provided they have pre-cooked it and brought it to the restaurant.
“If voted in, it will be practically impossible to effectively control the species and hunting method … inevitably resulting to the worsening of the problem of illegal provision of ambelopoulia (songbirds) and other wild birds in restaurants.”
The European Commission has repeatedly called on the Republic of Cyprus to take action to tackle this problem of the illegal provision of ambelopoulia in restaurants.
It should be noted that the Pancyprian Association of Restaurateurs has condemned the amendment, saying it will give “lawbreaking establishments, further ground to work at the expense of legal businesses”.
Illegal bird trapping in Cyprus continues to be on the rise, with trapping levels remaining tragically high, as shown by the reports of the systematic surveillance programme by BirdLife Cyprus and the field work of Cabs.
Extensive trapping with mist nets is further confirmed by the enforcement statistics, where during the months August-October 2016 the authorities confiscated over 850 mist nets, the highest number of nets confiscated in the last six years. In regards to limesticks, the authorities confiscated over 3.500.