€12.5 million illegal bluefin tuna trade exposes threat to sustainable fisheries in Europe

Posted on 17 October 2018

Investigation exposes extent of illegal fishing and trade that continues in European waters
Brussels, Belgium - 17 October 2018

Today, Spanish authorities announced1 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 globally2

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 year3. 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 . 
  1. http://www.guardiacivil.es/es/prensa/noticias/6768.html
  2. Transnational Crime and the Developing World, Global Financial Integrity 2017 
  3. http://www.wwf.eu/campaigns/living_land/?uNewsID=328543 

Notes to editors
  • The EU IUU (illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing) Regulation, in force since 2010, deters illegal fishing in EU and international waters, and prevents illegal seafood from entering the EU market. Globally, it is seen as the most ambitious legislation of its kind aimed at preventing illegal fishing, an activity which undermines global food security and marine biodiversity.

    The regulation requires all fisheries imports into the EU to be certified as legal via a catch certificate scheme. In addition, non-EU (third) countries assessed as failing to combat illegal fishing can face warnings (yellow or red ‘cards’) and ultimately trade bans on their fisheries products. EU member states are required to issue punitive sanctions against their nationals if found guilty of involvement even indirectly in illicit fisheries trade.
  • In force since 2010, the EU Control Regulation is the cornerstone of the EU fisheries control system. It aims to ensure that rules and sanctions are uniformly applied across the EU, and sets the obligations that competent national authorities must respect, including the control of seafood traceability practices and the control of imported fishery products.

Larissa Milo-Dale
Marine Communications Officer
+32 483 26 20 86
Northern bluefin tuna (Thunnus thynnus)
© Brian J. Skerry / National Geographic Stock / WWF