Report Shows Bluefin Tuna Trade Plagued With Fraud

Photo: Stewart / cc

As the world's demand for seafood continues to rise, global fish stocks have been pushed to the brink from overfishing, with some species, like bluefin tuna, being especially hard hit. In an attempt to avoid an irreversible collapse in Atlantic tuna populations, strict enforcements were placed on the fishing industry by regulating and tracking how many fish are caught each year -- but a new report on tuna fishing and sales have exposed gross discrepancies. As it turns out, records show that last year over 140 percent more bluefin tuna meat was sold than supposedly caught.Several years ago, as overfishing of Northern bluefin tuna prompted the species to be classified as critically endangered, scientists from the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT) began outlining quotas on what the fishing industry could sustainably harvest. In order to ensure such quotas were respected, fisheries are required to document their catches, but there's just one problem -- somehow more tuna have been ending up at market than were reported caught.

According to a report from the BBC, an investigation by the Pew Environment Group found that in some cases far more than double the number the fish were sold than should have been. Researchers believe that shoddy record-keeping and even outright fraud may be to blame for the discrepancy -- and that the fate of bluefin tuna is likely far worse when poaching is factored in as well.

The research involved scanning through available trade data - exports from EU nations, Japanese customs documents, the US Department of Agriculture's Foreign Agricultural Service - and comparing these with catch reports from Iccat's member governments.

As such, Pew argues that it probably under-estimates the scale of the problem as it does not include catches by straightforward illegal fishing operations, for which there are by definition no records.

In 2008, they calculate, just over 38,000 tonnes from the Med was traded internationally, against a Total Allowable Catch (TAC) quota of 29,082 tonnes.

In 2010, the quota had been slashed to 13,525 tonnes; but Pew's estimate for the actual catch was just over 35,000 tonnes.

The findings in the report fly in the face of fishing regulators' assessment of bluefin tuna fishing trends, which had seemed a bit rosier when taken as accurate. Researchers suggest that, in order to better gauge fishing levels, the industry should move towards digitized records of catches.

"The current paper-based catch documentation system is plagued with fraud, misinformation and delays in reporting," Roberto Mielgo, one of the report's authors, tells the AFP. "Much more needs to be done."

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