An ICIJ Investigation The Black Market in Bluefin

The black market in bluefin

OVERVIEW: How a runaway fishing industry looted the seas of tuna.

In this investigation

The Black Market in Bluefin
Video: A Primer in Purse Seining
The Black Market in Bluefin
eBook: Looting the Seas
The Black Market in Bluefin
Video: Looting the Seas

Key findings

  • Between 1998 and 2007, more than one in three bluefin was caught illegally, creating an off-the-books trade conservatively valued at $4 billion.
  • Fishermen blatantly violated official quotas and engaged in an array of illegal practices, including misreporting catch size, hiring banned spotter planes, catching undersized fish, trading fishing quotas, and plundering tuna from North African waters where EU inspectors are refused entry.
  • National fisheries officials have colluded with the bluefin tuna industry to doctor catch numbers and avoid international criticism.
  • Sea ranches, where bluefin are fattened to increase their value, became the epicenter for “laundering” tuna in the Mediterranean and North Africa.
  • The paper-based reporting system implemented by regulators in 2008 to bring transparency to the trade is full of holes, rendering the data almost useless.
  • A widespread, off-the-books trade in bluefin tuna has existed in Japan since at least the mid-1980s.
  • While there are signs that EU officials have started to crack down, illegalities remain a serious problem. In North Africa and Turkey, even less accountable fleets are ramping up operations.
  • A wall of secrecy protects the bluefin industry. Officials in countries from Spain to Croatia failed to produce records on fishing and farming infringements. Even the European Commission denied access to fishery infraction records, citing protection of commercial interests and even “military matters."

About this investigation

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More articles

The Black Market in Bluefin

Graphic: How the subsidies break down

The fishing industry has avoided paying the hefty fuel taxes levied on other Spanish citizens. ICIJ calculated what the industry would have…

Every country cheated. But when France owned up in 2007 to its overcatch of Eastern Atlantic bluefin tuna, the country was forced…

The Black Market in Bluefin

Key Findings

Between 1998 and 2007, more than one in three bluefin was caught illegally, creating an off-the-books trade conservatively valued at $4 billion.…

The Black Market in Bluefin

About This Project: Looting the Seas I

Looting the Seas is a two-year project by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists looking at the forces that are rapidly depleting…

Forty-eight days after ICIJ sent its first interview request to the ministry, officials finally responded Monday to allegations that for years leading up to 2008, the ministry downplayed the final catch figures of the nation’s bluefin tuna fishing fleet before reporting those figures to the European Commission.

Rejecting the tough stance of its top fisheries official, the European Union agreed Thursday to recommend similar catch limits as last year for the depleted stocks of Eastern Atlantic Bluefin Tuna.

ICIJ exposed faulty paper-based tracking method

Fishing nations approve overhaul of bluefin tuna tracking system

Nearly 50 countries that trade in high-priced Eastern Atlantic Bluefin Tuna voted Saturday to transform an archaic paper-based system into an electronic fish-tracking database that will make it harder for fleets to smuggle plundered bluefin into market, after ICIJ in 2010 exposed the faulty paper-based tracking method.

Part III

Bluefin, Inc.

For decades Japan has been the final stop of an Eastern Atlantic bluefin tuna supply chain riddled with fraud, criminal misconduct, and lack of oversight.

Sea “farms”, where bluefin are fattened to increase their value, have become centers for the bluefin black market in the Mediterranean and North Africa.

How overfishing, rampant cheating, and official complicity plundered the Atlantic Bluefin Tuna.

The Black Market in Bluefin

The black market in bluefin

OVERVIEW: How a runaway fishing industry looted the seas of tuna.

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