Med bluefin tuna fishery: investigation confirms massive fraud and lack of official oversight

Every year thousands of tonnes of endangered Atlantic bluefin tuna are illegally caught and traded, according to the findings published a new report by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ).

Looting the Seas, the result of a seven month investigation in 10 countries including France, Italy, Japan, Spain and Tunisia, states that between 1998 and 2007, the black market in tuna included more than one out of every three bluefin tuna caught, with an estimated value of 400 million dollars per year.

France comes in for particular criticism and the researchers found collusion between the Agriculture and Fisheries Ministry and the tuna industry to doctor the catch numbers.

“We found that the system failed at every point. It failed in that vessels were overfishing and that officials were turning a blind eye to that overfishing for years,” said Kate Willson, a reporter on the investigation.

The International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT), the regional fisheries management organisation which regulates the bluefin tuna fishery, found that spawning stock of Eastern Atlantic bluefin tuna has dropped by nearly 75 percent in the past four decades, with more than half of the loss between 1997 and 2007.

Conservation groups such as Greenpeace and WWF have been ringing alarm bells about the Mediterranean bluefin tuna fishery for a number of years, due to massive overfishing and fraud and are calling for a drastic reduction in quotas to enable stocks to recover. This new report adds further fuel to their call.

Among the investigation’s key findings:

  • Led by the French, Spanish, and Italians, Mediterranean fishermen violated official quotas at will and engaged in an array of illegal practices: misreporting catch size, hiring banned spotter planes, catching undersized fish, and trading fishing quotas.
  • The Bluefin Tuna Catch Documentation Scheme — created by ICCAT to bring transparency to the trade — is so full of holes that its data are almost useless.
  • A widespread, off-the-books trade in bluefin tuna has existed in Japan since at least the mid-1980s, according to a secret report.
  • As EU officials start to crack down, even less accountable fleets are ramping up operations in North Africa and Turkey.
  • EU and national governments protect the bluefin industry with a wall of secrecy, denying public access to records on fishing and ranching violations.

Regulators from the member countries of ICCAT will meet in Paris from 17 to 27 November to decide the quotas and rules for the 2011 Atlantic bluefin tuna fishing season.

EU Fisheries Commissioner Maria Damanaki has called on the EU to agree a drastic reduction in the quota for 2011 and to argue this at the ICCAT meeting. Member States, lead by France and supported by the other Mediterranean countries, have refused.

ICIJ Report, Looting the Seas

BBC world news: Bluefin tuna protection system full of holes

Le Monde: La France accusée de fermer les yeux sur “la surpêche”

El Pais: El Mercado negro devora atún rojo

Response from French Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries

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