New Report on Atlantic Bluefin Tuna Exposes Fraud, Cheating

Washington, DC - 11/08/2010 - Joshua S. Reichert, Managing Director of the Pew Environment Group, issued a statement following the release of a new report from the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists that exposes how fraud and intentional misreporting throughout the supply chain for Atlantic bluefin tuna have contributed to a thriving black market.   

“The entire bluefin tuna supply chain in the Mediterranean is mismanaged and subject to cheating and fraud – from the fishermen all the way up to government officials. This new report verifies what scientists and conservationists have been saying for decades: bluefin tuna catches are far too high and don’t take into consideration the staggering amounts of illegal fishing, which continues to threaten the future of one of the most sought after fish in the sea. If left unchecked, this will lead to a collapse of the fishery.

“Later this month, the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT), the international body charged with conserving Atlantic bluefin tuna, will hold a crucial meeting in Paris that convenes on November 17. ICCAT member countries must suspend the Atlantic bluefin tuna fishery until effective management measures are in place, illegal fishing is under control and the species has begun to recover. In addition, steps must be taken to protect the only known spawning grounds for Atlantic bluefin tuna in the Gulf of Mexico and the Mediterranean Sea.”

To follow are some of the key findings in the ICIJ report:

  • Sea ranches, where bluefin are fattened to increase their value, became the epicenter for “laundering” tuna in the Mediterranean and North Africa. Many ranches grossly underreported the fish they had in their pens and faked releases when forced by authorities to let go of illegally-caught bluefin.
  • While there are signs that EU officials have started to crack down, illegalities remain a serious problem. In North Africa and Turkey, even less accountable fleets are ramping up operations.
  • A wall of secrecy protects the bluefin industry. Officials in countries from Spain to Croatia denied ICIJ requests for records on fishing and farming infringements. Even the European Commission denied access to fishery infraction records, citing protection of commercial interests and even “military matters.”
  • The reporting system implemented by regulators in 2008 to bring transparency to the trade –dubbed the Bluefin Tuna Catch Documentation scheme—is full of holes, rendering the data almost useless. During 2008 and 2009 more than 75 percent of all purse seiner vessels catches – comprising nearly half the overall catch—lack crucial information that regulators need to follow the fish from vessel to market.

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