The Mediterranean island of Malta doubled its exports of frozen bluefin tuna to Japan last year – despite warnings from scientists that the species is under threat of being wiped out.
Specialist fisheries information service WorldFish Report has revealed that Maltese exports climbed from 1 942 tonnes in 2007 to 4 098 tonnes – meeting nearly a third (30%) of Japan’s frozen bluefin import needs on sales totalling US$139.7m (€105.87m /£95.2m). Nor was there any let-up in exports of the prized fish from other EU countries, among them Spain, Greece, Italy and France.
The trade is being driven by continuing demand for bluefin in Japan, where prices last year soared by 41% to more than $33 800 (€25 500 / £23 000) per tonne. This is despite mounting concern among scientists about the species’ survival, which has resulted in a European Union plan to impose a legally binding bluefin tuna recovery programme on all EU states. The revelations of booming sales add up to an “increasingly ugly discrepancy” between tuna exports and attempts to conserve endangered European stocks, comments WorldFish Report.
On top of this, questions are still being asked about 5 000 tonnes of bluefin tuna, worth €100 million, allegedly exported from Malta in 2007-2008, but not included in official statistics. With no indication of where the tuna came from, the implication is that the fish may have been caught illegally – i.e. over and above the limit of what is officially sanctioned by the EU and the International Convention for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT).
The (Maltese) EU Fisheries Commissioner, Joe Borg, has rejected claims of any impropriety. But concerns continue to be raised amid reports that illegal tuna traders have been docking in Malta. The EU is acting to reduce its oversized bluefin fleet – France has said it will reduce the volume of its tuna catches by more than 20%, and will cut the number of its vessels from 36 to 28. The Italians, too, have scrapped their largest purse seiner vessels. However, with huge profits at stake there are now mounting fears that these actions will be too little to stop European operators, whether legal or illegal, from driving the bluefin tuna close to extinction.
– Source: World Fish Report