Fraud “rife” in Mediterranean bluefin tuna fishery

Posted by Nicole Eckersley on 9th November 2010

Results of an independent investigation launched this weekend have revealed a complex international black market in East Atlantic bluefin tuna worth an estimated $4 billion, with many cases of quota violation, widespread underreporting, use of banned spotter planes, catching of undersized fish, and even governmental misreporting coming to light.

Reporters from the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) have spent eight months investigating the fishery and trade of the highly prized seafood commodity, which is also classified as an endangered species. The release of the investigation’s findings comes just a week before international regulators meet in Paris for crucial decisions on the recovery and management of this species.

“The revelations of ICIJ’s exhaustive investigation confirm WWF’s repeated warnings about widespread illegalities rippling throughout the supply chain of the Mediterranean and East Atlantic bluefin tuna fishery and trade,” said Dr Sergi Tudela, Head of Fisheries at WWF Mediterranean. “No consumer, no business, no government, can be sure they are dealing with responsibly caught and traded bluefin tuna – the whole chain is tarnished. Decision-makers at ICCAT have the power to put a stop to this barbarity once and for all at their meeting in Paris later this month. There can be no more burying heads in the sand on this international scandal.”

Speaking of the fishery’s workings between 1998 and 2007, French fishing captain Roger Del Ponte told ICIJ: “Everyone cheated. There were rules, but we didn’t follow them.” ICIJ’s investigations point to France’s fisheries authorities covering up the illegal activities for years and deliberately misreporting to the EU and ICCAT, the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas – the body that sets management rules for the Atlantic bluefin fishery.

The WWF said that recent data it has gathered from ICCAT confirms that rule-flouting in the Mediterranean bluefin tuna fishery was still widespread during the 2010 fishery.

ICCAT has repeatedly failed to reign in illegal fishing in the Mediterranean Sea. The findings of the ICIJ investigation show the gross failure of ICCAT’s new Bluefin Tuna Catch Documentation Scheme (BCD). Flaunted by ICCAT as a solution to the lack of control, the BCD is described in the ICIJ report as “so full of holes that its data are almost useless”.

With the ICCAT meeting in Paris later this month, WWF called again on the international community to cease industrial purse seine fishing, cut catches, establish sanctuaries and limit catches to artisanal fishery.