Europol coordinated the international Operation Tarantelo, conducted by the Spanish Guardia Civil with support of French, Italian, Maltese and Portuguese authorities, in which 79 individuals were arrested.
Several poisoning cases were detected due to the unsanitary conditions in which the fish were stored
Operation Tarantelo was launched when the Spanish Guardia Civil became aware of irregularities relating to Bluefin tuna fishing in the Mediterranean Sea. Investigations revealed that the fish was being traded illegally in Spain, but imported into the country through French harbours, after being caught in Italian and Maltese waters. While the fish caught in Maltese waters were illegally imported using documents from legal fishing and authorised farms, the fish caught in Italian waters arrived in Spain without documents or inspections. Although most of the fish was caught in Malta and Italy, in Spanish waters there were also unauthorised catches, in this case, the illegally fished Bluefin tuna was transported in false bottoms under the deck of a vessel.
This illegal Bluefin tuna market was up to 2.5 million kg a year and it is estimated criminals earn at least EUR 5 profit per kg; total illegal profits amount to EUR 12.5 million. The volume of this illegal trade is double the annual volume of the legal trade, which is estimated to be 1.25 million kg.
The tuna business is often linked to other crimes such as food fraud or document fraud. The main risks for consumer health were due to the unsanitary conditions in which the fish was transported and stored. Sometimes the fish was hidden underwater after it was fished, awaiting transportation. The supply chain was interrupted several times, which made the tuna go off and the risk of food poising higher for eventual customers. Several cases of food poisoning were detected after eating the tuna, due to the degradation of proteins from the unhygienic conditions in which the tuna was stored.