A report by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) condemns government authorities for ignoring global exploitation of tuna. The magnitude of the problem was found in 2007 when France hauled in almost double its allowed quota.
The report details systematic over-fishing, falsely reported catch volumes, ignored bans of spotter planes to track down schools of tuna and illegal sales of national quotas from one vessel to another.
All told, the investigation paints a bleak picture in which thousands of tons of fish were illegally hauled between 1998 and 2007 – as many as one in every three bluefin tuna may have been caught illegally during this period.
Reasons for the illegal trade are said to be obvious.
As marine biologist, Daniel Pauly told the ICIJ, the promise of a slice of such wealth is too enticing for many to resist.
"Fisheries are one of the most criminalized sectors in the world," Pauly said. "This generates so much money that it's like drugs."
The report said the black market trade in tuna was worth at least $4 billion (2.9 billion euros) between 1998 and 2007.
Tuna populations have been devastated by the practice. Quotas have been ignored, if not difficult to monitor, and regulators are facing a tough situation. The World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) has suggested a simple answer — drop quotas to something very easy to monitor that also may be necessary to save the species — zero.