Lynxes, finches not quite so happy

  • 2002-12-19
  • Janet McEvoy

Estonian herring, Latvian lynxes and Maltese finches are facing an unhappy future after 10 countries celebrated their historic invitations to join the European Union at the weekend.

The fate of these species might seem a drop in the Mediterranean or Baltic seas when compared with the billions of euros of farm and other aid on the table, but they were all part of more than three years of nitty-gritty negotiations that culminated, at the bloc's Copenhagen summit, in a decision to expand to 25 from 15 countries.

Candidate states stood their ground on their hunting, fishing and trapping habits, saying they reflect local traditions and are things that ordinary people will notice ahead of referendums on EU membership next year.

Under hard-won concessions granted in the talks, hunters in the Baltic states of Estonia and Latvia will continue to be able to shoot lynxes, or bobcats. Estonians can also carry on catching some bears.

The EU had originally wanted to ban the hunting of the wild cats altogether under its Habitats Directive but agreed to let the practice continue subject to regular reviews of the lynx population.

Under its membership deal Latvia will be able to shoot 50 of the cats a year out of its lynx population of around 650.

"If the lynx population goes up the quota goes up, if the population goes down the quota goes down. It's simple," said Andris Kesteris, Latvia's chief EU negotiator.

In Estonia, Alar Streimann, head of the Estonian delegation to EU accession, said in Tallinn the main advantage of the lynx resolution for Estonia was that the country got the right to make decisions regarding the animal on its own.

"We have a much bigger lynx population compared to the EU member states, and therefore have a unique situation," he said.

Estonia's tiddler herrings did not manage to slip through the net either at the EU talks.

Estonian fishermen will continue to be able to catch herring as small as 10 grams in weight, well below the limit allowed by the EU elsewhere.

But these fish will only be for sale in Estonia itself and third countries, and will be banned from the dinner table in the rest of the EU.

There was a similar sorry tale for Maltese finches.

Their hopes of a safer future within the EU were dashed when the bloc said they can still be hunted and trapped in the spring for at least another five years after the Mediterranean island joins the bloc in 2004.

The EU had wanted to ban the hunting as it is incompatible with its Birds Directive, but Malta argued that the hunting was a local tradition. The island's hunting and trapping practices will remain under review.

The EU's membership invitation now goes for approval in referendums in the candidate countries, but lynxes, finches and herrings are unlikely to be asked to express their opinion.