The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) recently
published the results of a seven-month foray into the Atlantic bluefin tuna
trade, claiming that widespread corruption at all levels has decimated the
species. Titled Looting the Seas, the exposé reflects the efforts of 12 journalists
who followed the bluefin supply chain “from major fishing fleets and tuna
ranches in the Mediterranean and North Africa, through ministry offices, to
some of the world’s largest buyers.”

Released before a November meeting of the International Commission for the
Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT), the report relies on interviews, court
documents, regulatory reports, corporate records, and “an internal database
used by regulators to track the trade.” According to its findings, the supply
chain “at every step was riddled with fraud, negligence, and criminal misconduct.”

The report specifically alleges that (i) “Fishermen blatantly violated
official quotas and engaged in an array of illegal practices”; (ii) “National
fisheries officials have colluded with the bluefin tuna industry to doctor catch
numbers and avoid international criticism”; (iii) “Sea ranches, where bluefin
are fattened to increase their value, became the epicenter for ‘laundering’
tuna”; and (iv) “The paper-based reporting system implemented by regulators
in 2008 to bring transparency to the trade . . . is full of holes.” The report also
implicates Japan and other countries, including France, Spain and Italy, in “a
massive black market” conducted behind “a wall of secrecy.”

The ICIJ report has since garnered media attention as well as remarks from the Pew Environment Group, which has warned of the bluefin tuna fishery’s imminent collapse. “ICCAT member countries must suspend the Atlantic bluefin tuna fishery until effective management measures are in place, illegal fishing is under control and the species has begun to recover,” stated the group’s managing director, Joshua Reichert, in a November 8, 2010, press release. “In addition, steps must be taken to protect the only known spawning grounds for Atlantic bluefin tuna in the Gulf of Mexico and the Mediterranean Sea.” See The New York Times, November 8, 2010.

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