MaltaToday | 03 August 2008

NEWS | Sunday, 03 August 2008

Cagey business: Malta’s tuna export figures don’t add up

The Fisheries Department this week issued a detailed breakdown of its bluefin tuna exports to Japan between 2007 and 2008, after MaltaToday Midweek pinpointed a discrepancy of over 6 million kg between international trade report figures, and an estimate of how much tuna could physically be exported from Malta over the same period.
On Wednesday, MaltaToday quoted from Japan’s official statistical declarations to ICCAT (the international tuna conservation authority), as well the Japanese government’s own official import records, regarding bluefin tuna exported by Malta. According to these sources, Malta would have exported to Japan nearly 12 million kg of bluefin tuna between June 2007 and March 2008.
Bluefin tuna can fetch prices of up to €20 a kilo on the Japanese market.
However, an industry intelligence report published by ATRT late last year suggested that the total stock of live bluefin tuna present in Malta’s fish-farms at the time – and therefore available for export – could not have been more than 4.8 million kg. This figure was reached after subtracting this year’s surplus, as well as a quantity of fish lost during a storm in October 2007, from an initial estimate of 6.4 million kg.
Similarly, reputable Japanese newspaper Asahi Shinbum calculated that before the abovementioned subtractions were effected, Malta’s total export capability in 2007 stood at approximately 6.8 million... in other words, just over half the amount Malta actually exported.
These statistics raised one immediate question: where did the additional tuna come from, to make up the total of 12 million kg acknowledged by Japanese authorities?

Government’s response
Reacting to our story, the Fisheries Division of the Ministry of Resources, Rural Affairs and Agriculture this week released a clarification report containing its own figures of Malta’s exports to Japan.
This report confirmed Japan’s citation of 11.9 million kg, and also Asahi Shinbum’s estimate of 6.8 million kg; but argued that the MaltaToday article failed to also include the statistics for tuna products exported to Japan from third countries via transhipment in Maltese ports.
In its breakdown of statistics, the Fisheries Department explained that exports of tuna ranched in Malta (i.e., held and fattened in Malta-based cages) stood at 6.7 million kg. Tuna caught from the wild by long-line fishing vessels amounted to 142,700 kg, while the remaining 5.1 million kg was accounted for by transhipments of tuna from Morocco, France, Italy, Libya and Turkey.
However, this explanation has only deepened existing doubts regarding Malta’s actual export figures, for two fundamental reasons.
The first is that, apart from revealing the quantities of tuna exported, statistical declarations submitted to ICCAT also contain information regarding the provenance of the fish in question. If a tuna specimen were caught from the wild or ranched in a certain country, the export certification would include this fact, even if the product was ultimately exported from Malta.
However, it is not at all clear from the government’s clarification whether the 5.1 million kg of re-exported tuna was indeed transhipped from a third country, or actually bought from that country by any of Malta’s seven professional tuna ranching firms, and then ranched locally to be exported as a product of Malta.
This is a crucial difference, for if the tuna was bought from abroad and ranched locally, then it would have to be included among the 6.7 million kg of Malta’s ranched export. However, government has listed these 5.1 million kg as re-exports, which in turn suggests that this amount should be listed in Japanese trade records as the exports of third countries, transhipped via Malta (in which case they would not form part of Malta’s official export figure of 12 million kg to begin with.)
The second reason for the growing international scepticism is that the figures supplied by government are at best vague, and at worst, do not actually tally with Japan’s trade figures at all. For instance, 1.23 million kg is listed as a single transhipment of tuna from Libya and Turkey in January 2008... without specifying how much came from Libya, and how much from Turkey.
This assumes particular relevance in view of the fact that the Turkish quota was 0.9 million kg... and Turkey had already exported 0.85 million kg, not including its share of the above 1.23 m.

Eyes on Malta
In view of these and other discrepancies, MaltaToday is reliably informed that the European Commission is closely monitoring the situation.
International conservation agencies such as Greenpeace have also taken note of the contradictory figures.
“Our understanding is that (transhipped tuna exports from third countries) should not be registered as Maltese exports in general trade statistics, and that it is absolutely impossible to register them this way when it comes to ICCAT trade data,” a spokesman for Greenpeace International told MaltaToday. “We are waiting for the Japanese data corresponding to the first semester of 2008 as these trade data must identify the origin of such bluefin tuna, who fished it and, in the case of farmed bluefin tuna, where it was farmed.”
Greenpeace has been campaigning along with the world Wildlife Fund to protect the blufin tuna from overfishing, as the species is believed to be heading towards a rapid extinction if the current fishing trends are not reversed.
“We have seen with much concern the absolute lack of control in the Mediterranean bluefin tuna fishery over the last decade. The port of Valetta has become one of the main hubs for fleets operating for this industry in the Mediterranean, and we have seen how little control effort has been exerted by the Maltese authorities. We have repeatedly denounced cases of vessels involved in potential IUU fishing activities without finding any proactive action by the Maltese Government,” the Greenpeace spokesman said.
The full text of the government’s clarification report will be published on Wednesday 6 August in MaltaToday Midweek, as a Right of Reply under the terms of the Press Act.

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