Updated | Spanish police arrest 79 over illegally-caught tuna from Maltese quotas

Spanish Civil Guard says criminal gang trafficked millions of euros in illegal tuna fished from Maltese and Italian quotas

El Pais said the Civil Guard estimates “a total of €12,500,000 a year would have been obtained illegally”.
El Pais said the Civil Guard estimates “a total of €12,500,000 a year would have been obtained illegally”.

79 people have been arrested in a Spanish police raid on the sale of 80,000 kilos of illegally-caught bluefin tuna, acquired from Malta and Italy according to a report in El Pais

Arrests were made in various provinces by the Spanish Civil Guard and Europol in what was code-named Operation Tarantelo. 

The Spanish companies implicated in the police operation are said to have acquired the tuna fished over and above quotas allocated to Maltese and Italian fishing companies, and falsified documentation on the tuna. 

The Spanish civil guard estimated that the criminal gang could have moved an annual volume of over 1.25 million kilos legally imported from Malta, but then also trafficked over 2.5 million kilos of overfished tuna. 

El Pais said the Civil Guard estimates “a total of €12,500,000 a year would have been obtained illegally”. 

READ ALSO Muscled out of the sea by Malta’s tuna giants

The operation dates back to 2016, with phone taps on small businesses carried out, but the investigation then spread on to the major European tuna ranchers, namely Ricardo Fuentes e Hijos – which owns the Maltese tuna rancher Mare Blu. 

El Pais said investigators stumbled on a truckload of 50,000 kgs of allegedly illegal tuna from Italy. 

The investigations were centred in the region of Valencia, while security forces from Italy and France took part in the operation. 

El Pais also reported sources from the investigation saying they had detected “bad conditions in the transport of the illegal tuna”, finding one case of poisoning in Seville. 

Maltese fish farm operators distance themselves from illegal trade

The Federation of Maltese Aquaculture Producers (FMAP) has to distance itself from reports of a tuna racket which has been uncovered by Europol and which is estimated to be worth €12.5 million a year.

“While we are not privy to any of the investigations being made, and therefore we reserve the right to comment in detail as and when details are made known, it is to be noted that the statement issued by Europol makes no reference to fish fattened in any of the Bluefin tuna farms in Malta but to fish allegedly caught in Italian and Maltese waters,” the federation said in a statement.

It added that the focus of the investigation “appeared to be fishing of Bluefin tuna and not to fish harvested from any of the Maltese aquaculture producers”.

According to Europol, an operation was launched when the Spanish Guardia Civil became aware of irregularities relating to Bluefin tuna fishing in the Mediterranean Sea.

“Investigations revealed that the fish was being traded illegally in Spain, but imported into the country through French harbours, after being caught in Italian and Maltese waters,” Europol said.

Fish caught in Maltese waters, it said, were illegally imported using documents from legal fishing and authorised farms. On the other hand, fish caught in Italian waters arrived in Spain without documents or inspections.

“Although most of the fish was caught in Malta and Italy, in Spanish waters there were also unauthorised catches, in this case, the illegally fished Bluefin tuna was transported in false bottoms under the deck of a vessel,” Europol added.

It said this illegal Bluefin tuna market was up to 2.5 million kg every year, double the annual volume of the legal trade.

The FMAP said it wanted to make it clear that it would not tolerate any illegalities and that it “strongly supports the authorities in their endeavours to keep the Bluefin tuna market free from any illegalities”.

“The FMAP is however taking these allegations very seriously and as a matter of fact discussed the statement by Europol with representatives of the EU commission at a meeting in Brussels held earlier on this week, the FMAP said, adding that it would continue to cooperate with all relevant authorities as necessary.

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