Fraud, Criminal Misconduct and the $4 Billion Black Market in Bluefin Tuna

When, perhaps in as little as two years' time, when the Atlantic bluefin tuna is fished out of existence, know that it was rampant fraud, lack of oversight, and criminal misconduct that was the cause. A new report by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists dishes the dirty details of the $4 billion black market in this critically endangered fish.The full report, Looting the Seas, is available online, but here are some of the most damning highlights of the seven month investigation by reporters in ten countries:

  • At the height of the black market, between 1998 and 2007, one of every three bluefin tuna caught in the world was done so illegally.
  • Fisheries officials in France colluded to doctor catch numbers to avoid international criticism. It wouldn't be until 2007 that France reported accurate catch numbers.
  • Fishermen in the Mediterranean, led by the French, Spanish and Italians, regularly and willfully violated quotas, misreported the amount caught, caught undersized fish, and engaged in other illegal practices like trading fishing quotas and using banned spotter planes.

    One fishing captain said, "Everyone cheated. There were rules but we didn't follow them. It's like driving down the road. If I know there are no police, I'm going to speed."


  • In Japan, widespread black market trading in bluefin tuna has occurred since at least the mid-1980s.

  • As regulations tighten in the European Union, less-regulated fishing fleets from North African nations and Turkey are taking up where the European fleets left off.

  • Sea ranches, where bluefin are fattened to increase their value (see video below on how this is done) are at the center of falsifying data. Many ranches underreport how many fish they have and when caught fake releasing the fish.

  • And it really just goes downhill from there, ultimately leading to Japan, which consumes the overwhelming majority of bluefin tuna and where Mitsubishi owns 40% of the bluefin market--standing to make billions on the eventual (and at least right now, given the lack of will to ban trade in the fish, seemingly inevitable) extinction of bluefin.

Responding to the report, Dr Sergi Tudela, Head of Fisheries at WWF Mediterranean said:

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.

Read the whole report: Looting the Seas: How Overfishing, Fraud, and Negligence Plundered the Majestic Bluefin Tuna
Like this? Follow me on Twitter and Facebook.
More on Bluefin Tuna:
Mitsubishi Hopes to Profit From Bluefin Tuna Decline
Atlantic Bluefin Tuna Will Be Gone By 2012 At Current Fishing RatesOne-Fifth Of Juvenile Atlantic Bluefin Tuna Killed by BP Oil Spill

Tags: Endangered Species | Fishing