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.”

Graphic: How the subsidies break down

Mar 21, 2012
nets, boat

Video: Everyone Cheated then France Came Clean

Mar 20, 2012
Between 1998 and 2007 more than one in three bluefin was caught illegally, creating an off-the-books trade conservatively valued at $4 billion

About This Project: Looting the Seas I

Mar 16, 2012
The French Ministry of Agriculture and Fishing claims quotas have been strictly enforced since 2008

French officials finally respond to allegations of doctored data

Mar 16, 2012
Dead bluefin tuna
Trade oversight

Threatened bluefin tuna may not get much help from international conference

Mar 16, 2012
school of tuna
ICIJ exposed faulty paper-based tracking method

Fishing nations approve overhaul of bluefin tuna tracking system

Mar 16, 2012
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