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Malta’s Tuna Farmers Linked To €25 Million Illegal Trade Took Home 27,000,000Kg In Bluefin Tuna Over Four Years

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A previous version of the article incorrectly stated that Fish and Fish is owned by Azzopardi Fisheries 

Malta’s tuna fish operators that were linked to a pan-European €25 million illegal tuna trade scandal took home over 27,000,000 kg in stock over four years.

Following a parliamentary question from MP Edwin Vassallo, Fisheries Minister Anton Refalo revealed that between 2016 and the first month of 2020 Mare Blu Limited and Malta Fish Farming Limited (MFF) took home 15,645,943kg and 11,409,284kg respectively.

In 2020 so far, MFF, headed by Salvu Ellul, has taken 624,374kg; Mare Blu, owned by Jose Fuentes Garcia of Spanish tuna ranching giant Fuentes e Hijos, has taken 355,796kg.

MFF and Mare Blu are the only tuna fish operators to break the 4,000,000 kg barrier over a single year, both breaching it in 2018, just months before the tuna scandal broke.

However, their rivals Fish and Fish Limited still managed to take home 12,74,618kg over the last few years.

Malta’s tuna fishing industry is highly lucrative. Accounting for over 80% of Malta’s fishing industry, it generates close to €180 million every year.

It’s been a year since Malta emerged as a central figure in a €25 million illegal tuna trade across Europe, with leaked Spanish police documents implicating Mare Blu, MFF, and the Fisheries Directorate’s Director-General Andreina Fenech Farrugia in the scandal.

Transcripts even hinted at potential bribes in return for Fenech Farrugia’s influence and higher fish quotas. Meanwhile, she also made use of a SIM card that was registered by Ricardo Fuentes e Hijos.

It is believed that illegal operators would either pass off their tuna as a cheaper species, forge documentation, or transfer catches between different cages.

The operators were allegedly able to bypass EU quotas through the help of Malta’s Fisheries Directorate, in particular Fenech Farrugia. She has pledged her innocence, with documents seen by Lovin Malta backing up her claims that she had reported Mare Blu ten months before the revelations.

A magisterial inquiry was opened, and Fenech Farrugia was the only one suspended for her role in the scandal.

However, the case has run cold with the nation’s eyes focused on the political crisis brought on by the fallout of the arrest and charge of Yorgen Fenech in connection with the assassination of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia.

The Parliamentary Secretary for Fisheries Clint Camilleri (now Gozo Minister)  has increased Malta’s national tuna-catch quota by 34,000 kilos.

Previously, the quota was distributed solely among the larger operators. However, smaller operators now also have access to the lucrative industry. Authorities say this will help enforcement, but it remains to be seen how this will work in action.

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