Today, Spanish authorities announced the arrest of almost 80 people involved in an extensive operation of illegal bluefin tuna trade, fished in Italy and Malta. The operation, led by EUROPOL, involved a large network of fishing companies and distributors, including one of Europe’s biggest seafood farming companies, the Spanish Ricardo Fuentes and Sons Group. The illegal catches entered the EU market principally through Malta, where more than twice the amount of illegal tuna was traded than legal, for an annual profit of €12.5 million. Last year, illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing was the 6th most valuable crime globally.
This investigation exposes the extent of illegal fishing and trade that continues to take place in European waters, despite European legislative measures that seek to curb these activities, including the IUU Regulation and the Control Regulation.
Samantha Burgess, Head of Marine Policy at WWF European Policy Office said: “This level of black fish and black money occurring on the European market in 2018 contravenes the leadership role that the EU is taking in the global fight against illegal fishing. Only through digitisation of records to trace where fish were caught can we remove the legal loopholes and ensure each Member State takes their responsibilities seriously to prevent more illegal fish entering the EU market. Without transparency on where fish were caught and how they were transported within Europe we won’t achieve a legal seafood market and sustainable fisheries governance in Europe.”
Proposed fisheries monitoring and control rules to ensure that EU fishing activities comply with sustainable practices under the Control Regulation came under fire from WWF earlier this year. The criticism fell on the rushed and non-inclusive process which resulted in considerable lack of evidence to support the legislative measures proposed. In light of today’s discoveries, the European Parliament and Council must now ensure that the revision of the EU control system effectively encourages transparency and enforces sustainable fisheries governance and seafood consumption in all EU countries.
The international investigation, also provides crucial information ahead of the meeting of the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT) taking place from 12 to 19 November in Croatia, where fishing nations and the EU will agree on new international measures to manage east Atlantic and Mediterranean bluefin tuna to ensure legality of this lucrative fishery.