Tuna lobby calls for tighter controls on seafood fraud

Federation of Maltese Aquaculture Producers (FMAP) says Malta must start using DNA techniques to control seafood fraud, insists fish slime problem has been substantially curtailed

FMAP suggest sanctions in case of breaches should apply across the board, to include fishermen, fish sellers, and restaurants (Photo: James Bianchi/MediaToday)
FMAP suggest sanctions in case of breaches should apply across the board, to include fishermen, fish sellers, and restaurants (Photo: James Bianchi/MediaToday)

The Federation of Maltese Aquaculture Producers (FMAP) is calling on tighter controls on illegal tuna fishing, saying Malta must start using DNA techniques to control seafood fraud.

FMAP said in a press conference on Friday that Malta, one of the biggest players in the bluefin tuna industry, had not grasped the importance of controlling seafrood faud.

"As a federation, we are pushing for specialised DNA techniques which allow it to be established whether fish found to have been caught illegally is bluefin tuna or not," FMAP lawyer Charlon Gouder said.

The proposal was one in a series of 20, which include measures for enhanced traceability, which the lobby presented to the government.

FMAP are also suggesting that sanctions which come into effect in the case of breaches should apply not only to tuna fish farm operators, but across the board, to include fishermen, fish sellers and restaurants.

They are proposing that a points system, similar to the one which applies to motorists, be introduced, by which those who are caught committing serious infringement could lose their licence.

"We expect this system to not only apply to tuna farms operators, because the industry depends not only on them but on anyone involved in the entire chain - from the ones who catch the fish to those who sell it. It should apply across the board," Gouder said.

"This is the way to not only improve our performance but to contribute to the sustainability of the species," he said, as he highlighted that thanks to the EU's efforts and those made by local organisations, tuna had recovered as a species in the Mediterranean and were now found in large numbers.

Under EU rules, Malta is currently allowed to farm 8,768 tonnes of bluefin tuna, Gouder said. He highlighted that the EU had again not acceded to a request for this maximum amount to be raised to 12,300 tonnes.

Fish slime problem substantially curbed

Asked about the issue of fish slime, which bathers used to report was polluting swimming areas, typically in the summer months, Gouder said that due to the efforts of the industry, the problem had been largely curtailed.

"The cardinal point which we respect is that everyone has the right to swim in a clean environment - I don't blame those who complain," he said, as he underscored that in 2018 and 2019 much greater efforts had been made to collect slime at source - in the tuna cage.

Last year alone, he said, 96,000 litres of oil - a byproduct of the feed given to bluefin tuna - was collected from inside the cages.

"Our efforts were recognised by the Environment and Resources Authority and by the local councils of Marsaxlokk, Marsascala and Birzebbuga," he said.

He acknowledged that not 100% of fish slime had been collected, but pointed out that in several occasions, what people reported was slime was actually naturally occurring sea foam.

More in National