This article follows a previous one on
the same topic. It covers work done by the Center for Public Integrity.
It involves a multi-part series titled, "Looting the Seas." The initial
article discussed the overall problem globally.
On November 7, 2010, Part I covers the "black market in bluefin."
It's so highly prized, it's become an endangered species. Worth up
to $100,000 each, no wonder overfishing depleted up to 90% of world
Among other uses, it's a sushi delicacy featured in prominent
restaurants from New York to Tokyo. In fact, Japan accounts for
about 80% of global bluefin consumption.
Rules restrict catch amounts but no one follows them. Many share
blame globally. Fattening tuna in coastal ranches revolutionized the
trade. Dragging them live to these operations for fattening precedes
shooting them in the head for shipping to Japan and other markets.
To catch offenders, nearly 50 countries (involved in trading Eastern
Atlantic bluefin) agreed to create an electronic tracking database
to make it harder to smuggle plundered amounts to market. Its value
approximates $400 million annually.
With or without rules and electronic checking, governments across
the Mediterranean colluded to profiteer. Fattening ranches make
bluefin availability year-round. A multi-million dollar enterprise
developed with 67 operations across the Mediterranean.
"At the same time, (they became) the epicenter of an off-the-books
trade that" decimated world stocks. A flawed system facilitates
plundering. Months of work by the International International
Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ). uncovered "rampant
(black market) rule-breaking."
From 1998 - 2007, it accounted for one-third of bluefin caught.
Cheaters involve fishermen, ranchers, divers, traders, politicians,
inspectors and scientists.
Illegal practices include:
under-reporting catches, amounts towed, caged and sold;
ranching undersized fish;
fake releases when caught cheating;
under-declaring harvests and faking data; and
Before ranches, Mediterranean tuna operations lasted three months.
Now it's year-round with over-catching. As a result, it's up to the
International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic
Tunas (ICCAT) to save a dying species. It's an intergovernmental
body comprised of dozens of countries with vested interests.
So far, rules set aren't followed. Catches way exceed quotas. Even
Japan's worried. Its senior ICCAT delegate Masanori Miyahara warned:
"If no set-up is in place for legally carrying out ranching, then it
should be stopped for a while, and it should be cleaned up."
At risk is fishing bluefin to extinction. As a result, the world's
largest consumer is worried enough perhaps to act. Japanese demand
spawned the burgeoning industry. Large purse seine vessels catch
3,000 tuna at a time. Selling them to ranchers, not final buyers,
At sea, vessels transfer catches to cages. Tugboats tow them to
coastal ranches. Once in circular pens, they're fattened for months.
At harvest, they're shot in the head, hauled aboard vessels, and
gutted with their heads cut off.
They're then immersed in a -2 degree Celcius seawater slush. Within
hours, most are frozen onboard refrigerated vessels for shipment to
destination countries. Remaining quantities are packed, air
freighted, and auctioned fresh in Japanese markets.
Overfishing wreaked havoc on ocean supplies. In 2002, the once rich
Balearic area off Spain faced collapse. Today, the species faces
extinction. Established controls don't work. "Even the Japanese,
after helping finance and set up the ranching industry, are having
Moreover, warnings from environmentalists and scientists have
impact. Top buyer Mitsubishi promised to support sustainable
fishing. Japanese officials began refusing bluefin imports, citing
dubious supplier paperwork. At yearend 2009, ICIJ learned Tokyo
halted Tunisian imports. Ranches there harvested more than reported
In March 2010, an international effort to halt bluefin trading under
the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES)
nearly succeeded. However, Japan now considers supporting a
temporary moratorium on ranching operations. Whether policy follows
rhetoric isn't sure given its extraordinary growing demand.
For years, Europe and Japan were complicit in looting the seas of
bluefin. Doing so created a lucrative black market. In 2006, Japan
and Australia uncovered massive illegal catches, including southern
bluefin, a sister Atlantic area species.
The findings were so damning they were suppressed for years. Massive
quantities were unreported. Many methods were used to launder
catches. Finally, Japanese officials noticed. In 2009, matters came
to a head.
Millions of dollars of bluefin were rejected. Whether tough policies
stay intact isn't known. Mitsubishi controls 40% of the Japanese
market so its agenda matters. So far, it hasn't committed either
However, bluefin's future depends on how it acts and whether Tokyo's
serious about protecting a valued species. If that doesn't pressure
policy to trump politics, what will?
Looting the Seas (Parts II and III)
Parts II and III were much more concise than Part I.
Part II discussed taxpayer funded subsidies.
An October 2, 2011 headline highlighted the problem, saying:
"Nearly $9 billion in subsidies (since 2000) fuel Spain's ravenous
Spain's the industry's biggest player. Billions of taxpayer dollars
support its money-losing enterprise. They "account for almost a
third of the value of the industry." At the same time, industry
players flout rules "while officials overlook fraud and continue to
fund offenders," according to work done by the International
Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ).
Other countries share culpability. However, with the EU's largest
fleet, Spain matters most. What it does unaccountably, so do others.
For example, Spanish/Namibian fishing magnate Jose Luis Bastos gets
enormous political favors. He and other Spanish companies catch "an
estimated seven of 10 Namibian hakes in what has been considered one
of the world's richest fishing grounds."
Despite warnings that already depleted stocks could drop further,
Namibia's government increased hake catch quotas.
It's Spain's most popular fish. The average citizen eats over nine
pounds annually in a nation consuming more fish than almost all
other European ones. At the same time, people don't always get what
they pay for.
According to an ICIJ study, almost of 10% of fish in Spanish markets
are mislabeled. In 2010, Spanish and Greek researchers at the
University of Oviedo and Aristotle University of Thessalonika
discovered high levels of mislabeling hake imports in both
South African species were called European or South American ones.
The latter two bring double the market price of South Africa's.
Spain's Europe's most important fishing nation. Researchers
focused on it because regional economies and fish stocks are in
Part III explained as fisheries push their limits, giant trawlers
move south toward Antarctica to catch what's left. In addition,
researchers documented how Asian, European and Latin American fleets
devastated southern Pacific stocks.
Once one the world's richest waters, they're vastly depleted. As a
result, experts say the only solution is banning fishing entirely
for five years to provide time for generating new supplies.
In Peruvian and Chilean waters, jack mackerel are severely depleted.
What used to take hours to catch now takes days. Chileans call them
jurel. Once, plentiful in southern Pacific waters, they going fast
toward entirely disappearing based on current trends.
Rich in protein, they're also reduced to feed for aquaculture and
pigs when there's not enough for humans. It takes over 11 pounds of
jack mackerel to raise two pounds of farmed salmon.
In two decades, stocks dropped from an estimated 30 million metric
tons to less than three million. As a result, new fishing grounds
are sought. Areas around Antarctica are being exploited to secure
An ICIJ southern Pacific study showed why jack mackerel depletion
foretells fishing stock fates globally. At issue is decades of
unchecked plunder, government complicity, and public indifference.
University of British Columbia's Daniel Pauly calls mackerel a
metaphor for overall decline.
Looting the seas unchecked assures eventual demise of a valued
global food source for millions.
It's one of many environmental crimes destroying planet earth for
profit unless stopped.
Doing so requires holding corrupt politicians responsible and
replacing them with honest ones. Only grassroots activism can
Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago and can be reached at
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